Armitage, who received a phone call from Theresa May offering him the position on Thursday, said his parents cried when he told them the news – he had made them particularly nervous in 1994, when he gave up his day job to become a full-time poet, theguardian.com reported.
The office of laureate – Britain’s highest literary honor – has its roots in the 17th century, when Ben Jonson was granted a pension by King James I for his services to the crown. Armitage will take home an annual stipend of £5,750. It is no longer a lifetime position and his tenure is set to last, as for his predecessors Carol Ann Duffy and Andrew Motion, for a fixed term of 10 years.
Armitage said he had no hesitation whatsoever about taking on the role. “It’s a big commitment, but if you’d asked me 30 years ago what I want to aim for, this might have been on the list,” he said. “And I feel I’ve been writing the kind of public-facing, public-occasion poetry that this role will require for quite a long time now.”
He hopes to use the position to “act in an ambassadorial way, as a kind of negotiator between what inevitably is something of a specialist art form, and the people who want to read it and respond on occasions with poetry.”
He will also use his stipend to set up “something in the field of climate change” – either a prize or an event. “It just seems to me that it’s the obligation of all of us and every art form to be responding to this issue,” he said. “It shades into all our politics, so I want to find a way of recording and encouraging poetry’s response to that situation.”
The position of laureate comes with no formal requirements, and individuals can choose whether or not to write poetry for national and royal events. Armitage said he had no idea if he would be able to write verse to order. “If I knew where to get poems from, I’d go and get them all the time,” he said. “The one thing I’m clear about is I won’t be turning out any work I don’t think is up to it.”
Described by poet Sean O’Brien as “the first poet of serious artistic intent since Philip Larkin to have achieved popularity,” Armitage grew up in the village of Marsden, in an “end terrace” that appears in Zoom! He studied geography at Portsmouth, writing a master’s thesis on the effects of television violence on young offenders.
Today, with 28 collections to his name, Armitage is part of the national curriculum and his work deeply embedded in the British psyche – as well as carved into the Pennines, where poems appear on six ‘Stanza Stones’ between Marsden and Ilkley. Having produced everything from a translation of the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to a more recent poetic look at a world in meltdown, The Unaccompanied, he is one of the UK’s bestselling poets.
Armitage was already one of the frontrunners for the laureateship when Motion stepped down in 2009, describing it at the time as like “a train noise that kept getting nearer and nearer and then went rumbling off in another direction.”
But officials chose Duffy, the first woman to be named laureate.