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Simon Armitage: ‘I always thought, if Ted Hughes can do it why can’t I?’

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Grit, wit and a focus on the everyday made the 21st poet laureate a popular choice. He shares his plans for his tenure, his aversion to ‘big P political poetry’ and the rejected poem that got him started

Simon Armitage wrote his first poem when he was 10 for a school assignment. “I didn’t know what a poem was. I knew it was short, so that was appealing,” he confesses when we meet at the London offices of Faber, which has published his work for more than 25 years and where his books – 28 in all – take up a couple of shelves on an impressively appointed bookcase. His teacher selected six poems to put on the wall; Armitage’s wasn’t among them. “What particularly upset me was that for the first time, maybe ever with a bit of writing, I’d actually put some effort in,” he recalls. “And I was quite pleased with the thing I’d made. So not to be among the chosen was a setback.” Sometimes he wonders if he has been pursuing a “career of revenge” ever since. On 10 May Armitage succeeded Carol Ann Duffy to become the 21st poet laureate: as he jokes each time he finishes a poem, “Stick that on your board, mister!”

The official call from No 10 kept being delayed – “she’s quite busy, apparently” – but after Theresa May had congratulated him and outlined the job requirements (there aren’t any), they had a chat about geography (in which they are both graduates: May from Oxford, Armitage from Portsmouth Poly). “Five minutes and that was it.”

He collected Queen's gold medal last month. The winner is traditionally introduced to the Queen by the poet laureate – in this case, himself

Big P political poetry rarely works. Poetry is the art of subtlety and to meet these subjects head-on isn’t my style

Related: 'Simon Armitage knows where the heffalump traps are': Andrew Motion on how to be poet laureate

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