Poet laureate pins inaugural Places of Poetry poem: a story of Simon Armitage and Alfred Lord Tennyson

By: Andrew McRae

Added: 31 May 2019

For roughly fifteen minutes, two days before the Places of Poetry launch, the only two poems pinned to our map were by poet laureates (or poets laureate, if you prefer). We had been anticipating with some excitement the landing of a poem, ‘Snow’, which Simon Armitage had generously agreed to offer for our inaugural pin. You can see it pinned just west of Marsden, Yorkshire, where Simon was raised. And here’s a very neat thing: you can also see it if you go to the site, an old quarry, where the poem is also etched into stone.

                But we hadn’t entirely planned on Alfred Lord Tennyson map-crashing. Given that we didn’t know exactly when Simon would pin his poem, we were hard at work on other things, which included making a film about how to use the site. For these purposes we pinned a poem, ‘Hallam’s Grave’, to a church in Clevedon, Somerset. Before we got around to taking it down (because we have these powers), Simon had logged on and detected that his was not the first poem after all. He had been beaten to it by a grand Victorian, and took the discovery with aplomb – we hope you will have a look at his home-video.

                But there’s another twist in this story. These two laureates didn’t have the map to themselves for more than a matter of minutes. For at this time our web-designer, Andy, chose to switch the website, many months in the development, to its ‘live’ url. We were not going to tell anyone about this until 12.00 a.m. on Friday 31 May, but we needed to make it live so that we could be sure it worked, and also so that journalists could have a sneak preview. Yet this was a tightrope-walk, since we were terrified of too many people discovering it, and leaving the journalists feeling like the story was out already. So we were edgy.

                Poets, however, are inquisitive people: within those few minutes of it being live, we had a punter. So congratulations to you, June Webster! You were the first at the door, with your indignant poem ‘Messing with the Old Kent Road’. Andy and I were so unnerved by the event that we took down the site until the following morning.

                Now it’s back up, we’re all wondering just how many more poems we will attract over the summer.

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