'I came face to face with Dennis Nilsen': poet laureate Simon Armitage

The former probation officer tells Desert Island Discs of the time he was in ‘a tiny room’ with the serial killer

The poet laureate Simon Armitage has spoken of his encounter with the notorious serial killer Dennis Nilsen and his unsatisfying time as a probation officer in a candid Desert Island Discs radio interview aired on Sunday.

The Yorkshireman was appointed as Britain’s 21st national poet a year ago.

As a young man, he dealt with former offenders and prisoners but admits to Lauren Laverne he does not think he was good at it.

His time working with inmates was the most difficult, he says: “I didn’t enjoy my time in the prisons. Dennis Nilsen was in Wakefield prison [when] I was there, so I was face to face with someone … who had done terrible, terrible things … in a tiny little room.”

He says becoming poet laureate, “is a huge opportunity to promote the art form”.


Vanessa Thorpe

The GuardianTramp

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