Monday, 23 August 2010

Simon Armitage and the Green Knight

Now that I've finished uni and have been released from the clutches of modern and classical German literature, I find myself fairly often being made aware of an author I've never heard before and realising that they're quite big news in the English speaking literary world. I suspect my lack of knowledge on these matters wouldn't really be any better if I had studied English Lit, but I sometimes get the feeling I've missed out a bit, you know, on the English 'canon' or whatever.

Anyway, the other evening I was revelling in my right to watch the iPlayer (Reason why I love the UK No.1) and went a little documentary-crazy. First I watched a programme written and presented by Simon Armitage about the Legend of King Arthur and its transformation from the subject of medieval Welsh poetry to the stuff of Norman legend. I'd never heard of him before last week, (Armitage that is, not Arthur) - I know, I know, shoot me, but for another *checks watch* four weeks or so I'm still only 22, and most Germans are only just leaving home at my age and don't even know how to cook beans on toast, and even if they did, they wouldn't, because they think it's disgusting (Reason why I love the UK No.2).

So, Simon Armitage. Turns out, he's a genius, with his lilting Yorkshire brogue and talent for translating medieval Arthurian poetry like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for the modern generation. This documentary was fascinating, it really appealed to my Faustian quest to know absolutely everything in the world, starting with a dose of European legend (I got hooked on medieval history and went on to watch a four-part documentary about the Normans. It's probably testimony to my greater affinity for Germany than France that I feel pangs of regret that our Anglo-Saxon cultural heritage and language was all but wiped out by the Men from the North, and now we say 'country' (French) instead of 'land' (German) and 'royal' (French) instead of 'kingly' (German). The Anglo-Saxon has the feel of fairytales about it, and makes me think of damsels (Damen?) up in high towers with conical hats and long, flowing golden hair).

I went on to read a Pocket Penguin edition of extracts from Armitage's collection of essays All Points North; The selection is called King Arthur in the East Riding and is fantastic - it's heart-warming, touches on the good bits of nostalgia and has a truly authentic sense of setting. I loved it, and I'm not even from Yorkshire. But anyone who has the tiniest iota of pride and attachment for their origins and place they grew up, however shitty it may appear to the unknowing eye, and however oddball the locals, should definitely have a sniff at this. Highly recommended.

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