Award-winning poet Armitage (Poetry/Univ. of Sheffield; Seeing Stars, 2011, etc.) does what poets sometimes do: takes a walk, observes keenly and reports.
In the author’s case, the walk was more than a shuffle about the Lake District, but rather a long haul down the Pennine Way, more than 250 miles, and three weeks, from Scotland to his home in the Midlands. It also meant heavy weather, for “down” the Pennine Way means into the prevailing wind and rain, which, along this backbone of England, isn’t to be trifled with. Though he is occasionally wry and playful, the Way is a serious ramble, capable of swallowing up travelers in the boggy mists and moorlands. Armitage plays the troubadour, giving poetry readings each night for room and board and rounds of drinks (“it’s basically 256 miles of begging”). It comes as little surprise that the author studied geography, for he displays a sharp appreciation of place, both in its unique contours and its mystery—at one point, he mulls the possibility that “recollections can inhabit or cling to places…[s]o we shouldn’t be surprised when we feel the atmosphere of a battleground or graveyard.” Armitage is also adept at compressed expression, doling out small stories—about the people he walks with or the history of the landscape, the misery of midges or the terror of a deep fog high in the Uplands—that flash like sun on chrome.
A journey that pays dividends, both for poet-wanderer Armitage and for readers.