Sunday, 7 August 2011

Seeing Stars poems by Simon Armitage

English poet Simon Armitage’s delivery is almost conversational, peppered with observations and asides—a raconteur who knows that the sound of his voice will hold an audience and that his stories will entertain.
On the page these poems have the appearance of formless bodies of text whose lines seem to ramble uncontrollably with random breaks.
They are like mini-short stories running over a page or two with only some of the more elongated forms resembling the traditional stanza poem; however, when read aloud there is a rhythm to them, a seasoned poetic sensibility with half-rhymes and assonances.
The narrators shape shift and change but all retain an essential “Armitageness”—loquacious, witty, and with an appreciation of the absurd, but then flung in to confusion by what they are experiencing. But the jaunty storytelling tone is deceptive.
Each poem reaches a moment when the mood changes, a moment of epiphany that jolts the reader out of his comfort zone and the everyday shimmers slightly as perspectives shift.
There is a dark humor here too, so dark that it can make you feel slightly uncomfortable.
It is not a flawless collection and there are moments when you feel that Armitage is merely writing for the sake of writing, letting an image run away with itself to see where it takes him.
The collection has a surreal, almost psychedelic feel, as if a stoned hippy felt an urge to write down all the images that came into his head because they seemed interesting but when read back are often just disconnected ramblings.
That aside there is much here to entertain and on occasions dazzle, with a phrase or image sending the reader hurtling into a fractured universe into which glimpses of another world come filtering through.
“I’ll Be There to Love and Comfort You” begins: “The couple next door were testing the structural fabric/ of the house with their differences of opinion.”
From a whimsically comic telling of a tale in which the narrator and his wife endure the noise of their neighbors arguing—“pounding and caterwauling carried on right in to the small hours”—the narrative becomes sinister as “a fist came thumping through the bedroom wall.”
From there on we fall into the twilight zone as the narrator pushes his hand through the hole in the wall:
“. . . slowly but slowly I opened my fist to the/unknown. And out of the void, slowly but slowly it/came: the pulsing starfish of a child’s hand, swimming/ and swimming and coming to settle on my upturned/palm.”
Welcome to the multiverse of Simon Armitage.
This review was written for an first published by the New York Journal of Books.


NikkiMurray said...

I'm in my final year at University of Notts, and I'm studying 'I'll be there to love and comfort you' for one of my final modules. I am actually looking at reader response, and was interested to know what your initial reading of this poem was? I have several different opinions; some people think the poem remains a dream throughout, and others think there is resonant imagery of a miscarriage or missing child. I realise you wrote this blog post over a year ago, but your input would be greatly appreciated, and will of course be fully referenced in my essay.

Thanks in advance,

Tony Bailie said...

Hi Nikki sorry for just responding now, I haven't really been paying attention to blog recently. I don't think I have the Armitage book anymore, infact I think it was an advance review copy from publishers printed in an A4 format which I think I gave to a friend who is an Armitage enthusiast. I do remember this was probably my favourite poem in this collection. I'm not sure I read it as literally as an image of a missing child or miscarriage. I think I responded to it more as a shift in perspective as SA hovers between wakefulness and sleep, not quite a dream but a glimpse in to his subconscious, which I suppose could be nursing images of a real child. Hope that helps a bit.