As they say ‘any port in a storm’. And when you are under sail in Lyme Bay and a South Westerly gale drives you towards THE ROCKS BELOW Golden Cap, that only leaves Brid Port and West Bay for shelter before the terrors of being wrecked on Chesil Beach. Writing poetry is not dissimilar and rarely if ever plain sailing. The other thing about writing poetry is that if you are rather good at it, port is often involved. As every school child knows the poet laureate gets rewarded with a pipe of port or is it a butt of Canary wine? A butt is fair amount of port, sherry, Madeira, Canary or Malmsey. One Butt equals two pipes or four hogsheads and as all Dorset cidermakers know, a hogshead is 64 gallons. There are of course kilderkins, firkins and puncheons which like rods, perches and chains have mysteriously gone out of fashion.
Put very simply a pipe of port is 2 hogsheads which is 128 gallons which in ‘continental’ terms is 582 litres or 720 bottles of sherry. This sherry perk for the poet laureate was re-instated by John Betjeman in the 1970s. Dryden the first official poet Laureate received a butt of Canary wine and £200. Simon Armitage, our current poet Laureate also receives an honorarium of £5,750 which is not a lot these days. It means you still have to sing for your supper.
Since Charles II’s time there have been 21 poet laureates. Queen Elizabeth II has had six poet laureates in her reign as opposed to seventeen Prime Ministers. It is the prime ministers and their minions who choose the Poet Laureates. Maybe it should be the other way round? Where poets choose the Prime Ministers? Now that would be interesting. The Queen of course has the last Word. Ma’am. Quite a choice. The post of poet laureate used to be for life but is now for ten years. That is 72 bottles of sherry per year. More than one a week…
Simon Armitage, a remarkable and well known poet, was appointed in May this year and follows in the footsteps of Ted Hughes, Alfred Lord Tennyson and William Wordsworth. Wordsworth was no stranger to Dorset. As a young man fresh from Revolutionary France he lived with his sister Dorothy in a fine house overlooking the Marshwood Vale. He once had to go to Lyme Regis on a horse to order coal and when he came back his sister said, “Eh William where’s the ‘Oss?’ ? William had left it tied to a lamp post down on the Cobb. He must have been dreaming about poetry… or the sherry was better than normal.
As for the present Poet Laureate, I have known Simon for over 20 years and have heard him wax lyrical in Oxford, Devon, London and Yorkshire. His formal lectures in Oxford as professor of poetry were exceptionally well crafted and unusually for Oxford, very humorous. Simon’s father was a stand up comedian and writing pantomimes when he wasn’t being a probation officer or selling old tyres to farmers for their silage clamps to keep the polythene down in a storm. Simon studied Geography in Portsmouth. Another Port. And then became a probation officer in Manchester.
Simon is very down to earth which is his enduring and endearing charm. And that is why his poetry appeals to such a broad cross section of readers. His latest volume of poetry Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic is a collection of waifs and strays, odd poems, odd commissions, poems written walking on the hoof, Pennine Way and SW Coast Path, poems about war, poems on sculpture, poems on rocks, on paintings and within plays, playing with words, poems for sculpture parks and park benches. Bronte sisters, Henry Moore, even an apple poem—Apple Cemetery. The joke is that Simon does not like apples but he has not been averse to a drop of cider over the years, even in a Devon barn.
In Brid Port we are very lucky indeed to be able to welcome Simon Armitage as part of the opening day of the 2019 Bridport Literary Festival. First Appeasement, then Max Hastings & the Dam Busters, not a rock band, and then Simon Armitage and Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic. They will all be performing in the Electric Palace.
Simon’s readings will be accompanied by a strange eclectic raft of slides: Old Shanghai, Zodiac T shirts, David Bowie, The Bronte sisters, Hayle and hearty, the Lelant Saltings, the odd purse and typewriter. Poet Laureates like poems come in all shapes and sizes. It promises to be a very memorable evening. When I introduce Simon I will ask him a few questions about his poetry, probation work, sherry and the Queen…
Sunday November 3rd 6.30pm Electric Palace, 35 South Street, Bridport. DT6 3NY . Tickets £10 www.bridlit.com or Tel: 01308 424901 firstname.lastname@example.org