‘A modern-day Twitter spat’: Professor Simon Armitage debuts his latest work

Poet Laureate and English professor, Simon Armitage, has translated a medieval poem with the help of lifelong friend and theatre director John Tiffany.

This is the fourth poem from the Middle Ages that Professor Armitage has converted from Middle English to Modern English as there ‘simply isn’t anything else as much fun’.

The latest work is called The Owl and the Nightingale, its original author anonymous, is about two rivalling birds using words as weapons – not too dissimilar to the modern-day Twitter spat, at least this is what Simon Armitage likens it to.

These warring creatures in the ‘cantankerous’ Owl and the ‘disputatious’ Nightingale are both certain of being in the right and stubborn to be persuaded otherwise.

John Tiffany sees the avian rivals as two divas, whereas Simon Armitage said, “I don’t think it’s a didactic piece, I haven’t translated it because it’s got a moral lesson for our age, but I definitely see reflections and echoes of our times and I don’t think they need to be amplified too far to be clear. These are two birds having a barney over 900 rhyming couplets.

“The most obvious parallel or comparison is that we live in a very divided, very antagonistic time. What’s interesting to me about these two birds is that both of them absolutely believe they are right. It fully attunes to the times we are living in, in terms of people having access to ways to broadcast their opinions so readily and so feistily.

“The birds have their positions and they are unshakable. The way that they go about announcing their positions is not just to talk through the strength of their argument, it’s also to undermine and attack the arguments of the other. They do that in both in rational and logical ways and in scurrilous and vulgar ways as well.”

This poem will be performed on stage at the Royal Court Theatre in London on Friday 4th March 2022, accompanied by no set dressing other than copies of the script, a perfect companion where wordplay and one-liners are the starring act. It will be narrated by Professor Armitage and the parts of Owl and Nightingale will be read by Meera Syal and Maxine Peake. The three-person cast will have one day to rehearse; a testament to the skill of the actors and the faith that John Tiffany has in his company.

For more on Simon Armitage and John Tiffany’s latest medieval adventure, read the Guardian article.