Cleveland Arts’ Millennium Poet First

Simon Armitage
Simon Armitage has recently been named poet in residence for the Millennium Dome and has been given the job of producing a 1,000 line millennium poem. Photo: Paul Wolfgang Webster

Simon Armitage has recently been named poet in residence for the Millennium Dome and has been given the job of producing a 1,000 line millennium poem.

Simon is no stranger to millennium poems as in 1997 he started off Cleveland Arts’ chain poem for the millennium, in association with the WRITEAROUND Festival.

The idea being that the poem would circulate for a little less than two years – each week a new poet would add a ten line stanza, then pass it on to the poet of their choice. After two years Cleveland Arts would, hopefully, have a long, composite, collective poem by some of the best poets in the world – 100 stanzas for 100 years, 1,000 lines for 1,000 years.

The poem will give a fascinating insight into poets’ views of the end of the century. After one and a half years so far, the poem has journeyed the globe and travelled across Australia and the United States of America. The Poem for the Millennium will be a truly historic work, both a chain and a mosaic, exploring important ideas and providing a unique picture of poetry at the end of the century. Poets who have joined Simon Armitage in contributing to the poem have included Brendan Kennelly, Sean O’Brien, W.N. Herbert, John Kinsella, Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney.

Simon Armitage’s start to the poem reads:

Eve of the dawn of the year two-thousand,
thousands stand on a far east island,
first to be lit by millennium’s morning
loving the starlight that passes for meaning.

Time, the human kind. ‘Although below the date-line,
fathoms deep, the sea-bed separates and weeps:
new rocks record the earth’s magnetic field contentedly,
and mollycoddled in the heat, old life-forms

well beyond the register of sun, swayed by the moon,
hang fire, go on regardless, blind, and unbeknown.

The Poem will be launched at the Writearound Festival in October 1999.

Peter is office co-ordinator at Tees Valley Arts. He has worked for over a decade as a freelance small business consultant @nealandco. You can follow him personally @pneal.