Published by Knopf on June 5th 2012
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Now in paperback, the powerful selected work of Simon Armitage, the most distinctive poetic voice of contemporary Britain.
Simon Armitage is arguably the leading British poet of the past twenty years. His knowledge of the English just as they are ("a gentleman farmer / living on reduced means, a cricketer's widow, / sowing a kitchen garden with sweet peas"), his colloquial Yorkshire wit and eye for situational ironies, his ability to steal up on us with the surreal while capturing the ordinary speech of everyday life: these qualities place him at the forefront of British poetry today. This slim volume is the perfect introduction to his work for newcomers, or the ideal selection for longtime readers to keep on the bedside table.
I was introduced to Simon Armitage while I was in college. I studied English with a focus in Creative Writing with a focus and poetry, as I like to tell people. So during my studies I was required to read Simon Armitage. As you may already know, required readings tend to be a pain in the ass, but, thankfully, the poetry collections that were chosen for us to read were all written by wonderful poets (their writing was wonderful, I don’t know jack shit about how they were as people).
So anyways…Simon Armitage has a very strong grasp of the English language, vocabulary, and literary devices, which I expect from any self-respecting poet. This collection encompasses poetry about subjects from love, to heartbreak, to family, and to the struggle of daily life. Armitage tackles a wide range of topics further destroying the belief that all poetry is romantic, “beautiful”, and dedicated to talking about love or relationships. There are poems about death that refer to the “echoing” memories of remembering those who have passed away with haunting and purposeful repetition and parallelism. There is also a poem about the pointless quality of doing an endless, unfulfilling job, something that a lot of us can relate to. *sighs deeply* The endless void of soul-sucking employment.
One of the things that I do have to take note of is Simon’s usage of poetry in a song-like manner. This is a unique quality that I have not come across very often in all of my poetry reading, not even in ballads, which were sung, do you typically find poetry quite this song-like. He writes stanzas and that repeats in between the “verses” some of the long form poems. This causes the poem to build up in a very emotional way so that by the time you get to the end, you feel more than a little bit overwhelmed by what you’ve read. I don’t think I’ve ever read a poem quite like that one before (which is expected from any artform) and think that this poetry form should become more popular. I also believe that it would also make poetry itself more popular since people (in general) seem to be able to relate more to music then poetry. I could definitely imagine this particular poem read/sung over music. It is one of my favorites from this collection, and without naming it, I know that you’ll know it when you read it.
Something that you must keep in mind is that Armitage does use some imagery that is surrealistic at times which can be confusing for people who are not familiar with surrealism. In short, some of the imagery makes little to no sense, but the sound of the words is beautiful and putting the images together in your mind is an abstract exercise that I find tickles the creative mind and can often be amusing and fanciful. This quality gives a little Alice in Wonderland vibe to some of the poems which helps to free your mind from the typical romantic fuckery that is expected from poetry.
Wrapping it all up, this is not a poetry collection that you should pass on and I reread parts of it every year (it’s been about 5) and will read more of Simon Armitage’s poetry in future.