Simon Armitage signs butt
In a tradition dating back to the 17thcentury, Yorkshire-born poet Simon Armitage has been gifted with a butt of Sherry to celebrate his appointment as poet laureate.
A playwright, novelist and professor, Armitage is the 21stpoet laureate in the UK. Traditionally, the poet laureate was rewarded with a small stipend and a butt of Sherry (known as a ‘sack’) by the monarch of the day.
In 1630 it was awarded to Ben Jonson, though the custom fell into abeyance when poet Henry James Pye relinquished his butt in 1970 for a payment of £27 per year.
Last week Armitage travelled to Jerez to choose and sign his Sherry barrel, bequeathed to him by the Consejo Regulador de los Vinos de Jerez y Manzanilla (CRDO).
“I’m honoured to accept the kind offer of the Sherry in keeping with the long tradition of the office of the poet laureate,” Armitage said.
“Like laureates before me, I hope to put the bottles to good use as gifts or to raise money in the name of poetry, but look forward to enjoying the odd tipple myself.
“For the label, I’m hoping to include an image of a cuckoo, the symbolic bird of the village of Marsden where I grew up and where so many of my poems are rooted,” he added.
Armitage’s wife Sue has drawn a Marsden cuckoo (pictured right) that is being developed into the label design. A poem by Armitage will appear on the back of the bottle.
In 1984, to mark nearly 600 years of the trade in Sherry between the UK and Spain, the ancient tradition was revived with the gift of a butt of Sherry to poet laureate Ted Hughes, who signed the barrel during his visit to Jerez and created his own label.
Each butt (or barrel) contains the equivalent of around 720 bottles of Sherry. Since Hughes, the likes of Andrew Motion and Carol Ann Duffy have followed the tradition.
The poet receives 72 bottles of Sherry a year over their decade-long tenure as poet laureate. Many of the poets use the liquid to raise money for poetry foundations and charities connected to poetry.
Armitage’s poetryis characterised by a dry Yorkshire wit combined with an accessible, realist style and critical seriousness.