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'Writing was just for fun then': Simon Armitage on writing Zoom!

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The poet laureate reflects on capturing life as it appeared to a West Yorkshire twentysomething in the collection that launched his career

In some versions of my teenage years I had no poetic ambitions whatsoever. In other versions I have a memory of walking around the village fantasising about being interviewed by Melvyn Bragg for TheSouth Bank Show. He is asking me questions about my groundbreaking yet approachable work and I’m giving him thoughtful and enigmatic answers. The truth probably lies somewhere between the two: I did have hopes of becoming a poet, but they were closer to delusions, along with daydreams about being a professional footballer or an astronaut or David Bowie. I took a geography degree then qualified as a probation officer in Manchester; all that time I was reading poetry and writing a little bit here and there.

The big change came when I started attending a poetry workshop at Huddersfield Polytechnic, a kind of informal night class in the staff bar, to the accompaniment of humming lager coolers and the clack of snooker balls. The poems that came out of those weekly meetings formed the basis of Zoom!, and without Peter Sansom, the poet who ran the sessions, I don’t think I would have progressed as a writer or had enough confidence to submit work to magazines. A guru figure for me, he shaped the development of my “voice” and offered me an image of the kind of poet I could become.

It was never intended as a manifesto, political or literary, it was simply a portfolio of my interests

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