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Poem for a sandwich: Simon Armitage to barter his way across England

February 25, 2013|By Jenny Hendrix
  • Poet Simon Armitage after he was awarded his Commander of the British Empire medal in 2010.
Poet Simon Armitage after he was awarded his Commander of the British Empire… (Getty Images )

Poet Simon Armitage has announced a plan to walk 260 miles along the English coast this summer. During this sojourn, Armitage will offer readings at pubs, schools and other venues in exchange for food and shelter, carrying no money and relying on his pen to sustain him. 

"The whole idea is that of the barter. All I've got to offer is my work, and the reading of it," he told the Guardian. "Will that be enough for people to say I can stay at their home, or that they'll give me some sandwiches? I'm looking for anyone who can tolerate me . . ."  

One hopes that the locals like poetry, because besides tolerance, Armitage is also looking for someone to "sherpa" his "unfashionable turquoise suitcase" between stops.

The poet, who was honored with a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) honor by Prince Charles in 2010, will leave from Minehead, a town on the coast of Somerset, on Aug. 29 and walk the distance to Land's End, a peninsula in Cornwall, where he plans to arrive on Sept. 17.  

He's no rookie to journeys of this kind, having previously walked the Pennine way, a 268-mile trail from Derbyshire to the Scottish border, for his book "Walking Home." This summer's outing will lead to a companion volume, which Armitage plans to title "Walking Away." 

"The first book turned out to be about people and their stories, and that's what I'm hoping to find this time," he said. 

Armitage is certainly not the first writer to take up the England-based long-distance walk as a subject. Besides W.G. Sebald, whose walking tour of Suffolk was the subject of the dreamlike meanderings in "The Rings of Saturn," Robert Macfarlane, Will Self and Rory Stewart are well-known as chroniclers of their journeys on foot (Self and Macfarlane once took a walk together in fact).  

The marriage of writing and walking is an old one, stretching from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to William Blake, from Parisian flâneurs to Situationists, and it makes sense: The mind works well when walking.  For whatever reason though, wandering writers seem a bit more rare on this side of the pond.  Cheryl Strayed is one exception.

What do writers look for on the go? According to Armitage, he'll be on the look out for "Wordsworthian moments of tranquility."  That and a couch to crash on at night.

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