Plans are being developed for an ambitious National Poetry Centre in the city of Leeds, to mark the appointment of Yorkshire born poet Simon Armitage as Poet Laureate and create a lasting legacy from his decade-long tenure in the post.
The National Poetry Centre will be a major collaboration led by Leeds City Council, Leeds 2023, the University of Leeds and other important partners. The intention is to provide a welcoming public space that offers an extensive poetry collection with research facilities, rehearsal and performance spaces, a friendly café, opportunities for writers to exchange ideas, event spaces for literary events and prizes and hopefully accommodation for visiting writers from across the UK and all over the world.
The project is Simon’s response to the opportunities offered by the royal appointment of the laureateship to develop initiatives and projects that enhance education, foster new talent and promote literature and literacy. “On that basis,’ says Simon, who is also Professor of Poetry at the University of Leeds, “one very ambitious goal I have set myself over the forthcoming decade of my tenure is to develop a National Poetry Centre, to bring poetry in line with other national art forms that have their own headquarters and venues, such as the National Theatre and the National Gallery etc.”
“In my view the centre needs to be outside London and Leeds is an ideal location: accessible, central, dynamic, contemporary, future-minded, people-oriented, community-aware, committed to cultural regeneration, and building momentum towards 2023.”
The new Poet Laureate is passionate about the need for a major centre. “Poetry is one of our most ancient and proudest artistic endeavours, steeped in tradition, history and ritual,” he adds, “it’s also undergoing an incredible renaissance at present, particularly in relation to new generations of writers and performers across diverse backgrounds who have found in poetry a way of articulating their concerns and expressing their feelings.”
Cllr Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said “We are so honoured that Simon has chosen to develop his vision for a national poetry centre in Leeds. We are committed to strengthening the cultural life of our city because we know what incredible social and economic impact it can bring. The serious business of finding the right site, raising the funds and creating something quite extraordinary that can welcome all our communities can now begin.”
The University of Leeds will work closely on the project with other partners. “The University has a long-standing and historically important engagement with poetry and poets, and many of our alumni have gone on to great acclaim. Simon Armitage is the University’s first Professor of Poetry, and we have globally significant archives of individual poets and publishers in our Special Collections in the Brotherton Library”, said Vice-Chancellor, Sir Alan Langlands. “We are very proud of our literary achievements, and a National Poetry Centre is a wonderful fit with both our mission to educate and engage, and our aspirations to be a world-leading University with strong local roots and a truly international character and outlook. Collaborating with Professor Armitage offers our city, as well as our students and staff from all over the world, a fantastic opportunity to showcase the terrific literary work that is going on here.”
Leeds 2023 chair Ruth Pitt said “The minute Simon mentioned his vision to us at the start of his tenure we knew it was something we wanted to do. Poetry speaks to everyone and any of us can pick up a pen and write. A National Poetry Centre embodies everything we want to achieve, which is to benefit our people, nurture learning, talent and creativity and to establish a visitor destination for poetry and literature fans across the world.”
“We intend that the new centre will be open in time for our spectacular year of culture in 2023,” says Leeds 2023 creative director Kully Thiarai, who took up her post in January. “It’s such an exciting project and a fantastic way to mark Simon’s appointment as our first patron. Now the serious work begins, and we look forward to collaborating closely with Simon and also a whole range of other artists, performers and community groups as we develop our plans.”
The project will now develop through an ongoing partnership between Simon Armitage, Leeds City Council, Leeds 2023 and the University of Leeds to identify a site and secure funding.
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