Friday, March 30, 2012
Life Amongst Ruin
The trench was once a storm drain.
Its center the collector of muddied precipitation,
once virgin pure,
fallen from the sky.
Vegetation was scarce,
and the soil unfertile.
The grounds had not been nurtured,
the only beauty sprouted from weeds
growing from rough edges.
Even though light had not yet shown on it,
the ground stayed sacred, as the
earth around it was overcome by man-made
As nature around it was
violated, the trench bred
more beautiful, the landscape
developed natural beauty.
The stream of rain water molded waterfalls
through fissures between rocks. No longer a storm drain,
now a pond. Mother nature’s storms fostered wild lilies
in fertile soil. Ducks flocked to the pond,
as their only sanctuary amidst the
chaos, where they were safe.
A fallen oak.
It’s mahogany wood now a frame, forming
a violin. The bark has been stripped. The
tree is vulnerable, naked.
Easily scratched tarnished and
chipped. The splinters now smoothed,
reveal the wood’s
unique structure and decor. Where swirls
and licks of natural detail lie in sequences
beneath the varnish.
A violin whose exterior is
as sensitive and porcelain as its music.
The oak thrives in its emanation
of forest musk through the hollow f holes.
It thrives in the reverberation of musical soundwaves.
In the tones projecting
from its belly.
The quintessential spring day cannot be this perfect, I think to myself. The perfect temperature, three fluffy white clouds perfectly placed in the sky; even the squirrels are in better moods today. As I look around I see the fountain central to the pond. I watch the droplets surge from the bottom of the fountain to their peak and sprinkle outwards towards the surface of the water. These droplets go through such an evolution from together as one, to individual beads to together as one once more. The beauty is at the peak; the droplets almost pause as if to relish in the moment of being so high in the air before they fall back down to the rest of the water. I wish the droplets could stay up there, I wish I could stay up there, forever paused.
Droplets enumerated to unbounded limits
With a skyward reach
Some effervesce into a fine mist
Others are true to their character
The mist flies!
Up, up, away!
THE POND EDGE NEAR!
These land the hardest
Yet also the lightest
They join their brethren
Ripples and waves
Returning to the lake surface
Dying hard and ashamed
Dust to dust
Water to water
I am the fountain
I AM THEIR GOD!
Thursday, March 8, 2012
An Introduction to Simon Armitage
By Rachel Brown
Simon Armitage is not only a poet; he is also a novelist, a non-fiction writer, a journalist, a screenwriter and a translator. Armitage is a modern Renaissance man, as is easy to see through examining the variety of his work. As relatively young writer, Armitage is very modern with his writing and translations. Because his dry humor and contemporary vernacular are mixed into his writing, his work is not only accessible to the reader, but also appealing.
Armitage’s latest book, Seeing Stars, is composed of what may be defined as “prose poems.” However, Armitage does not see his poems this way, he admitted he had no idea what a prose poem even is. At a Question and Answer session at Butler University on February 21, 2012, he explained that his poems are, “little baby universes.” Each of his poems in Seeing Stars is like a short story, but without extensive character development. The poems each capture a moment or two in the life of a character and Armitage describes the moment well with precision, intelligence and wit. His poem “An Accommodation” describes the relationship between two people as a net curtain defines it over time. The woman says, “ ‘I’m over here and you’re over there, and / from now on that’s how its going to be’ ” (lines 5-6). Armitage clearly sets the boundary and establishes the scenario in the poem. As the poem goes on, the male speaker describes how “the / TV [was] in her sector but angled towards me,” (25-26) and how she would bring back men that were “not fit to kiss the heel of / her shoe” (20-21). Though the relationship is not perfect, Armitage accurately describes what happens in a realistic and humorous way. The poems ends by explaining that the net curtain has become a “tattered shroud, this ravaged lace / suspended between [their] lives, keeping [them] / inseparable and betrothed” (32-34). At first a curtain of separation, the net becomes almost a wedding veil that deteriorates over time, but endures through the relationship. Armitage beautifully binds the couple together with such a vivid image of this threadbare curtain that held them together through good times and bad. At first glance, Armitage’s writing is inviting and attractive to the reader; upon a second glance, the poems stretch the reader’s mind and are full of complexity.
Each poem in Seeing Stars follows a similar pattern; one character, or sometimes two, is introduced, a moment in his/her life is presented and metaphors are used to provide extraordinary insight into what that moment signifies. Armitage’s writing is strikingly perceptive and full of metaphors that pull in the reader and won’t let go.
A Lush New Twist on an Old Arthurian Legend
By Lucy Vernasco
Using lush, vivid language, Simon Armitage, has created a new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as mystical as Morgan Lefay herself. From the start of the poem, Armitage, a renaissance man of the written word hailing from England, paints a vibrant story that “has moved the hearts and minds of many—an awesome episode in the legends of Arthur” (Armitage 23). At a recent reading at Butler University, Armitage called Sir Gawain and the Green Knight a “plaything of academics” and a “jewel in the crown of English literature.” Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a classic Arthurian legend of courtly love and bravery that has been treasured and translated by many. At a Christmas feast in Camelot, Gawain, a knight of Arthur’s round table, accepts a perilous challenge through self-sacrifice from a lumbering giant who “in all vestments he reveal[s] himself veritably verdant!” (31) After a circulation of seasons, Gawain must venture through an unchartered, wild world of “steep slopes”’ and “serpents and snarling wolves” (69) to find the Green Knight’s castle and “earn the same blow as [he’ll] dole out in [the] decorous hall” (47). Gawain seeks comfort in an enchanting castle found on his journey and eventually learns the knight’s magical secret.
Armitage’s descriptions seem to sing as he describes “plants which flower and flourish as their leaves let drip their drink of dew” (57). One can feel the decay of autumn when he writes, “The drying airs arrive, driving up dust” and “all which had risen over-ripens and rots” (57). Armitage artfully preserves most of the alliteration in the original poem, but adds his own flair with exclamation and playful interpretation when describing Camelot, the Green Knight, and the natural scenes. The Green Knight takes vivid shape with Armitage’s language as he describes his “mane of his mount was groomed to match, combed and knotted into curlicues then tinseled with gold, tied and twisted green over gold, green over gold…” (33). His way of expanding the old translation captures and engages the reader.
Armitage’s vision of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has been called a “compulsively readable new verse translation” by Edward Hirsch of the New York Times. The poetry flows and tantalizingly twists into the minds of the readers, capturing the never-tiring themes of duty and honor. Armitage said he believes the natural music and acoustics of the poem can be lost in translation and through his translation he hoped to restore the noise of the poem where the energy lives. Armitage’s poetic skill is heavily apparent as he successfully breathes new life into a classic tale that should find a home on every twenty-first century bookshelf.
Seeing Stars: Questioning Love in Relationships
By Lauren Benner
Fairytales are the epitome of flawless and loving relationships; however, they also have potential to ruin the ones that exist in reality. Fairytales set a standard that everyone seems to compare their own relationships to. We hear stories from people around us about how romantic it was in the beginning of their relationship. In time, we can’t help but notice their love fading away, as we’ve seen the transformation from what it used to be. As it becomes evident that our relationships are not like the promises of a fairytale, we lose hope at the sight of our flaws and the lack of ideal love and perfection we yearn for. The poems of Simon Armitage convey emotions about these kinds of relationships in his work, Seeing Stars; which includes other poems about emotions and human nature. His poems express emotional obstacles regarding identity and doing what’s right. Armitage conveys circumstances of real life emotions through his unconventional poems that, at first glance, come off like nonsense; however, there is truth in each poem’s context: where we too have nonsensical expectations for our relationships and are mired by the thought of a fairytale.
The poem, “Knowing What We Know Now”, portrays a man’s struggle for his identity and the emotional process for doing what’s right. In this poem’s unconventional way of relating to relationships, Armitage uses a fairytale elf to offer the protagonist a chance to be young again. His temptation to accept the offer is reflective on the many failed relationships; where he is not at peace with himself because of his past. His desire to live in the past conveys that his frame of mind is not in reality. It is human nature to want to have things go our way, where we can control the outcome. However, wanting to relive the past is unhealthy, because we become stuck on what “was” instead of accepting what “is”. The extent of the protagonist’s love for this woman is tested through his confidence in himself. He is hesitant in his answer because he thinks of how it will affect the woman he loves and how selfish it would be to choose his self over her. Instead of indulging in what he wants, he realizes “how cowardly, to let her walk death’s shadowy footpath alone, thus betraying his every promise to her, thus breaking every vow” (33). After all, what’s so great about getting what we want, only to go through the experience alone? The man’s faith in loving this woman feels like it really could be a fairytale when he declines and says, “’I won’t do it. Because of my Annie’” (34). We expect the sacrifice he makes for her to be another part of a mutual, beautiful relationship. Even in knowing that he will never again be offered the chance, he declines the opportunity in order to be with her. In using actions rather than words, he proves that he really loves her. If all relationships were to be in this frame of mind, fairytales would be more realistic; however, real life doesn’t work that way, as Annie did not return the favor; the elf describes her as “’a stunning, captivating woman. And looking younger every day’” (34). Kevin gives to her, and receives nothing. When we love someone, we want to give them the world. Nothing hurts more than our love not being returned and our efforts rejected and not being cared for in return.
Relationships don’t only fail when one partner’s love is dismissed and unappreciated; they also fail when both partners let go of the romance. The poem, “The Personal Touch”, conveys this situation in a unique way. It’s a relationship that has turned into two roommates as the protagonist refers to his wife: “my cohabitee can be pretty demanding” (57). Simon Armitage portrays this poem’s eccentricity by the literal object of space. The poem is similar to “Knowing What We Know Now” in the way that both protagonists are thoughtful and giving. Both protagonists are the ones trying to make it work, always giving and never receiving. In “The Personal Touch”, he asks her what she wants for their first anniversary, and she says, “’I want some space, Paul, and plenty of it’” (57). It’s obvious that he cares more because he responds with, “’You wouldn’t rather have a macramé seat cover for the Mercedes Roadster I bought you for Christmas?’” (57). The romance is lost in the protagonist’s submission and need. He loses equal ground with his wife in the relationship because he loses sight of who he is. Their unequal relationship is established when he accepts her spite without a word, and heads to a hardware shop to fulfill her desire: “It was very manly in there, lots of stern objects made from uncompromising metals” (57). The description of the hardware store is the protagonist’s perception of everything he is not. The desperation, loss of love, and nonexistence of intimacy portray what is left of their romance: “’here’s what you asked for, my sweetheart. I only hope it’s enough’” (58).
The perception of unrealistic expectations and fantasy is characterized in “Overtones”. The poem is an odd metaphor for the beauty we want to see in our relationships, when in reality it’s just a fantasy on the surface: “when you love me, and whisper your love for me… it’s custard-yellow embossed with a bold red heart, like a door I once saw in an otherwise dried-up town on the side of a hill in Salamanca. Salamanca, which is beige but burnt at the edges” (68). The artist is narrating the poem with phrases like “I pop open a tin of True Confessions and tip it out on the canvas” (68). In his mind, he is making a masterpiece, a life out of idealness and fantasy. His words continue to portray his unrealistic frame of mind: “How about a little Male Model, to echo that thin trace of Mars Bars bottom left” (68). The characteristics of “True Confessions” and “Male Models” are metaphorical for his “Overtones”. His work of art is covered with overtones to make it prettier, like a sugar-coating on reality. His imagery continues in seeing himself as “Casanova”, fleeing from an angry husband after having kissed the Contessa (69). The artist even admits, “note how easy it is for the mind to nod off at the tiller, but frankly that’s the idea” (69). Here, he acknowledges that his real life isn’t as exciting as the one he’s creating. Armitage opens the truth behind the artist’s madness a little more when he says: “if I embedded a long, moon-colored sliver of your priceless hair beneath this thick blob of Jimmy Jimmy, could it be out secret till our dying breath?” (69). Here, the artist is pleading, as if asking the one he loves to pretend his masterpiece is real; that they can make it real if she plays a part in it too. The artist is aware of his nonsense, because he is able to see the reality of his circumstances; however, he refuses to accept it by denying and ignoring it. As he continues to paint his perfect masterpiece, he continues to make it his fantasy: “all the while I’m tapping my feet to the colors, going at it with brushes or blades until the world looks for all the world like it sounds” (69).
The poetry of Simon Armitage is an art form in the way he portrays ridiculous situations that are strikingly related to real life. In “Knowing What We Know Now”, the elf’s offer to turn back time for the protagonist is portrayed as a metaphor. It asks, “how can you prove that you love someone?”. The moral of the story is that it takes two to make a relationship work, and the reality is that it often doesn’t work that way; that people we love have the capacity to hurt us. In “The Personal Touch”, the poem conveys the romantic side of relationships; where people let go of what they have and stop working for it. In “Overtones”, the poem is a metaphor for our perception of fantasy. The real world is not pretty enough to make a life in, so we create a favorable one in our minds. The fact that Simon Armitage’s poetry is so unrealistic in the first place makes a stronger impression on the point he’s making: we have nonsensical expectations for our relationships and are caught up in the thought of a fairytale.
Seeing “Five” Stars
By Andrea Rubens
I am normally not a fan of poetry. I don’t enjoy searching for the “meaning” behind the words. So at first I was hesitant about reading another book of poetry, but with Seeing Stars I was pleasantly surprised.
Book reviewer Sam Ruddock, explains Armitage’s writing in this book to be, “story-poems [that] combine narrative drive and plot twists with awareness of language, pacing, and the impact of an odd transgression mid-line” (www.writerscentrenorwich. org.uk/bookreviewseeingstarsbysimonarmitage.aspx). Through this unique way of writing, Armitage is able to really grasp the reader’s attention from beginning to end.
Paul Batchelor, a book reviewer from theguardian.co.uk writes that, “Part of the attraction of Armitage's writing is the way we can never be entirely certain how deep the layers of irony go; but here the sideswipe at sentimental or overly reverential kinds of writing (especially nature writing) feels real enough” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/ books/2010/jun/05/seeing-stars-simon-armitage-review). This description of Armitage’s writing is particularly apparent in the prose poem titled, Michael.
The story begins stating the theory, “the first thing we ever steal, when we’re young, is a symbol of what we become later in life, when we grow up” (Armitage 10). It then continues to list a number of satirical examples proving this theory: “Tod took a Curly Wurly and he’s morbidly obese” and “Claude says he never stole anything in his whole life, and he’s an actor i.e. unemployed” (Armitage 10). The narrator then continues to tell a personal story of he and his son spending the day together fishing. He mentions that after catching the fish, he had planned on throwing it back in the water, but his son surprised him by killing the it completely and eating it for dinner. Later that night the narrator asked the son what he wanted to be when he grew up. The son replied, “I’m going to be an executioner” (Armitage 11). The unsettling irony of the poem’s beginning and the end is what makes Armitage’s writing so powerful. For someone like myself who normally does not read poetry for the main reason that I don’t like searching for a greater meaning, Armitage manages to do most of the searching for me yet makes me want to search and explore even further. He captivates his readers by presenting light-hearted, humorous tales, and then leaves them searching for a greater understanding.
Seeing Stars Book Review
By Kriste Lapkus
“Seeing Stars”, Simon Armitage’s eighth collection, cannot be classified into one category, for his visionary voice is unique and interlaces through each of the poems. These poems are written in traditional prose, but extend their power to anecdotal paragraph form and are intertwined into everyday life situations with a fantastical twist. Observational prose, which is evident in “Seeing Stars”, is simply writing through the manner in which an individual thinks, but Simon Armitage uses his talent to produce startling images out of thin air and continues to write about them until there is no more left. Throughout this collection of poems, his train of thought is evident in every poem. One simple thought leads to another outlandish thought and thus, Armitage cannot stop the words from flowing not just out of the page, but into the readers’ minds.
Unlike many poets’ attempts, Armitage’s clever use of satire and sarcasm in these poems suitably aid in exploring familiar emotions of anxiety, joy, innocence, and many more, for each poem has a different face. An “Observer” book review by Kate Kelleway explains that “some poems have on the surface a laddish atmosphere, a suggestion of a pub joke (they read aloud brilliantly). Some end with punch lines. Yet they move at runaway speed and break their own imaginative barriers”. Each poem is filled with different views and a different personality from the next. One of the poems, “I’ll Be There to Love and Comfort You” is filled with lines such as “the mother of all asteroids was locked in a collision course with planet Earth” (12) in order to explain the angst of rearing a child that is now grown. Other poems are simply satirical, like the “Christening”, along the lines of, “Customers have bought books about me also bought Do Whales Have Bellybuttons? by Melvin Berger and street maps of Cardiff” (3).
All in all, Armitage’s experiment in satirical prose poetry in “Seeing Stars” is a triumph. The satire of these poems is a refreshing new spin to everyday poetry that is all too common. This, and the prominent writing, is what keep this collection of poems flowing without dullness. Each poem is dissimilar and begins a certain way, but as it is read sends the reader to an entirely different path. Simon Armitage uses his talent to do what many poets have failed to do. His imaginative, genius mind has created a separate world in “Seeing Stars” where the reader can’t stop him or herself from delving into it and enjoying the ride.
What Should We Do?
By Andrea Ortega
Many individuals struggle to know exactly what authors want them to learn from the story. They know that they preach about humanity, but not every writer’s motive behind a book reveals itself easily to the reader. In fact, there may not be a specific reason as to why they wrote the words that they wrote. It’s up to the readers to decide what the author’s message is. As I was reading an ancient poet’s tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which was translated by Simon Armitage, I kept on thinking: how should we as human beings act to make ourselves better individuals? In order to get a glimpse of the answer, it is necessary to dive into the heart of this poetic story. Within its ocean depths, the green knight and Sir Gawain teach readers about the qualities that human beings should strive for such as appearing to be tough but being kind-hearted as well as being brave and avoiding cowardice.
In the beginning of Sir Gawain, the green knight displays his own bravery and tough physique. Upon his arrival to King Arthur’s castle, the knights look at him, thinking that he is a mysterious man from an unknown land. “A fearful form appeared, framed in the door: a mountain of a man, immeasurably high” (page 29). The green knight appears to be strong just by his outer appearance, indirectly telling the others that they should not underestimate his power and authority. He also dares to have one of the men strike at his bare neck. “Arthur grips the axe, intending to attack. Yet the stranger before him stands up straight…his face without fear” (page 43). The green knight tells the readers of Sir Gawain that they ought to appear tough and daring to strangers even if that means they might be put in a situation that leaves them vulnerable just as the knight’s bare neck is vulnerable.
Throughout the tale, the knight Sir Gawain shows the markings of a brave man who keeps his promises. Despite the frightening green knight’s challenge that will cost him his life, Gawain is willing to keep his promise of confronting the green knight again and receiving the blow of his axe upon his neck. Before Gawain departs for his journey to find the Green Chapel, he calmly tells his fellow followers: “Why should I shy away. If fate is kind or cruel, man still must try” (59). Others finish up expressing their sorrow and uncertainty for him, and then Sir Gawain sets off and eventually finds his destination. The green knight comments on how well he did on keeping the promise of his arrival (171). Sir Gawain also fulfills other promises such as satisfying the wants of king’s wife. She constantly enters his chambers when he stays at the castle, demanding that she receives a kiss from him. “‘Very well,’ said Gawain, ‘let’s do as you wish. If a kiss is your request I shall keep my promise faithfully to fulfil you, so ask no further’” (107). He is brave in satisfying her desires even though her husband would not approve at all if he knew about it, teaching the readers of Sir Gawain that they too must be brave and keep their promises even though the future seems uncertain and bleak.
As much as Gawain does his best to be brave, he still isn’t the perfect knight in shining armor. Before Gawain goes to receive the blow of the green knight’s axe, the king’s wife tempts him to take the easy way out by giving him a special girdle with protective powers. “Our man bore the belt not merely for its beauty…but to save his skin” (157). By accepting the gift he admits his weakness of being truly afraid of the future and cannot be brave unless he knows for sure that he won’t die at the axe. Despite wearing the girdle that guarantees his safety, Sir Gawain flinches the first time that the green knight swings his axe at his neck. The green knight mocks him, saying that Gawain was able to face all of the monsters of the open fields but now is too afraid to risk the pain of the axe (173). Gawain feels terrible upon hearing this, realizing that perhaps he is not as brave as he appeared to be. This reminds readers of Sir Gawain that as much as they try to be brave like Sir Gawain, they must struggle hard to control their fear in the face of danger.
Besides Sir Gawain’s struggle of controlling his fear, the king of the castle, who is secretly the green knight, comforts him in the face of uncertainty by offering up his generosity and mercy to Sir Gawain. Gawain travels in the wilderness, being unsure of where to go, but the king is there to give him shelter from the biting cold and wild beasts. The king greets Sir Gawain warmly by saying, “Behave in my house as your heart pleases. To whatever you want you are welcome, do what you will” (page 77). Gawain accepts his offer of generosity. Before he gets comfortable, however, he expresses his concerns with finding the Green Chapel in time before the new year begins. The king tells him to not worry. The place that Gawain seeks is near, and the king offers an escort to guide him in the right direction (93). The king also agrees to share the animals that he hunts with Gawain as long as he gives his gains of the day in return. After the first day, the king offers Gawain a feast of deer, and Gawain kisses the king like his wife had kissed him earlier that same day (113). After Sir Gawain departs for the Green Chapel, the king gets there before his arrival, disguising himself again as the green knight. He deals his blow on Sir Gawain’s neck, but it is left unharmed because the king was merciful and didn’t put power behind his attack. The king explains why this was so to the confused Gawain: “So twice you were truthful, therefore twice I left no scar. The person who repays will live to feel no fear” (177). In other words, Gawain kisses the king for every day that he stays in the caslte, keeping his promise to him of sharing his gains which are kisses he exchanges with the king’s wife. The generous, merciful king tells the readers of Sir Gawain that they too need to keep their promises and be generous as well as merciful to receive generosity and mercy in return from someone else.
Through qualities such as mercy, generosity, and bravery, the characters of Sir Gawain show us how we should lead our everyday lives. It’s important to appear tough enough towards others in order to not appear weak and be taken advantage of, and it’s equally important for us to give back to our communities by being generous in our actions or taking the time to do a favor for someone in need. What should we as human beings do? We should strive to make our hearts as kind and brave as much as we can even though we face hardships and sometimes feel like we’re not strong enough.
By Erin Palm
“Poems are just stolen time. We are really just pinching time to make them,” is just one of the many fascinating things poet Simon Armitage said at his question and answer session on Tuesday February, 21 in the new Effroymson Center for Creative Writing. Known for his poetry and translations of works like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Armitage came to Butler Campus to talk poetry and about his latest work, Seeing Stars. The session with him was full of interesting facts and fascinating quotes that inspired young and old writers.
The first question of the session was about Armitage’s use of alliteration and rhyme. Armitage said that he uses alliteration and rhyme only in the translations he does. He said that there is a major difference in society now on using styles like alliteration or rhyme. He noted that in contemporary writing, alliterations and rhyme scream “look at me! I’m a poet. I have talent.” This is really an unwanted effect for poets when using poetic styles. Armitage said to be wary of styles like end rhyme and alliteration for they could give off the wrong message. But he also concluded that when these poetic styles are not forced in poetry, they are actually perfect and sound great.
Many writers like to work to the sounds of music playing in the background, but not Armitage. While writing poetry he likes to write in a quiet environment, especially one without any music. He finds music a distraction because he is too interested in music. When he hears a piece of good music, he has to find the lyrics and find the meaning behind them. If he stays in a quiet environment, then he can stay focused, and really “poetry is the art form of concentration, as he said.” It takes a lot of focus and concentration to come up with poetic stories that Armitage is known for writing.
When asked about his poetry in Seeing Stars, Armitage said that he thought of them as “baby universes. I don’t want them to become adults. I think they are complete in their own way. ” He said that he didn’t want to try and write a novel from one of his poems. As he said it, novels take a long time to write, time that he doesn’t want to take. But afterwards he said something interesting about poems. He said “Poems are just stolen time. We are really just pinching time to make them,” meaning that poems are just glimpses in the past, or that they are photos of a moment in time that we are trying to preserve. We try to take these moments and summarize them in a short poem or a long story, but in truth we are just taking a small part of that moment. We can never truly write down what we felt, what we did, what really happened, or how anything happened in the moment we are trying to capture. We just have to try to capture a small part of whatever we remember from the moment. We are just pinching the moment to make a poem.
Near the end of the session Armitage talked about how he portrays his poetry and how he wants people to see it. For Seeing Stars, he got the inspiration for the book from visiting a garden full of weird statues. The statues, he said, were too weird and unordinary to understand the meaning behind them, but yet they were intriguing to people. He also took note that the people who created these pieces of art left them out in the open overnight. He said “I want people to see my poems as statues in a garden that can be left outside for everyone. It’s like you just don’t quite get them. You just want to poke holes through them.” And so he created Seeing Stars as his way of creating pieces of art that everyone could view, and that everyone could try to find out the meaning behind them by searching through their layers.
All though Simon Armitage’s visit was short, it was worth it to listen to him talk and answer simple question about his writing. He was helpful and full of inspiration and quirky quotes that are sure to be useful to young writers and poets. Armitage is full of ideas and stories to tell through his poetry, or like he said in the session “I don’t have anything to say outside of my poetry.”
Morality in Seeing Stars
By Jaci Turner
Anne Stevenson, the English poet with over a dozen published volumes, said, “A poem might be defined as thinking about feelings - about human feelings and frailties.” This is especially true for one of her successors in the British poetry world, Simon Armitage. He uses those thoughts about human feelings and frailties to show the situations in which human morality is questioned. Using prose poetry as his medium, Armitage shows the backwards values of society within an ironic context.
The title poem, “Seeing Stars,” presents a scene in a pharmacy in which the pharmacist wishes a young couple buying a pregnancy test good luck. The man gets defensive at the sentiment and snaps at the pharmacist, “What did you just say?” (Armitage 18). The pharmacist realizes his mistake and offers to compensate with a gift, and the couple asks for hard drugs and a syringe. The pharmacist had just made an honest mistake and was trying to make up for it. The couple took advantage of the situation, knowing that they could get the pharmacist in serious trouble. This is a hyperbolic example, showing that people take advantage of others’ mistakes, in order to get ahead themselves.
In another poem, “The delegates,” two doctors skip a seminar at the Conference of Advanced Criminal Psychology and take the day to shoplift from local shops. At the end of the day, they throw the items into a river and ask themselves, “why do we do this?” (Armitage 64). They don’t remember, agree to stop, and part ways. This poem uses heavy irony to show the almost inconceivable pointlessness to their actions. The irony is that there are two doctors attending a conference to analyze criminal behavior, but they cannot figure out why they commit this petty crime every year. This emphasizes the tendency of society as a whole to make poor decisions with little or no reasoning. People do bad things all of the time and when asked the answer is usually, “I don’t know.” Simon is using his poetry as a medium to encourage people to start thinking before taking action.
In “The Accident,” a man burns himself and calls a nurse in order to have the wound examined. The attending nurse sees the injury and accuses the man of obtaining it in the process of assaulting his wife. He tries to explain that he is not even married, but the woman refuses to hear and storms off with a response of, “Yeah, right, and I’m the Angel of the North” (Armitage 24). This scene presented by Armitage shows the mistake that people often make with jumping to conclusions. Instead of assessing situations as an impartial third party, people make judgments based on their own personal experiences about what has happened. This poem also shows that society usually portrays men as the bullies in one on one confrontations with women, which is why the nurse is so accusatory. Armitage plays off of the irony, because the woman comes off as the antagonist in the narrative.
Simon Armitage is an expert in irony. He shows the complexity of everyday situations that humans find themselves in. The lapses in judgment and poor decisions that are made fully encompass the idea Anne Stevenson presented, “a poem might be defined as thinking about feelings - about human feelings and frailties.” Human feelings and frailties are at the center of the backwards moral decisions that humans make.
Analysis of the Witty Brit, Simon Armitage
By Jessica Burton
Simon Armitage has a way of writing that flows off the page and through your lips as if you yourself had planned to say it before he wrote it down. At the same time he always pulls out an unexpected ending. It is as if he were in class writing down an assignment at the last minute, using an everyday idea, and then he realizes at the end that he needs to throw in a twist in order for the assignment to have his signature touch. He then proceeds to completely blow away a previous assumption that you had on something quite average and convert it into something of pertinent interest with very few words.
How is such a change possible? Word choice and wit, both of which Simon Armitage is quite skilled with. He uses his British mannerisms throughout his work, which adds a new level to his poetry, and uncommon language. Then he adds the flip. “What Armitage does next is to take off into orbit—there is nowhere else to go,” writes Kate Kelleway in The Guardian. “Michael,” a poem of Armitage’s in his new book Seeing Stars is a good example. “Michael” begins with the theory that what people first steal in their lives is reflective of what they will become. For example, a person whose first theft is a fountain pen as a child became an award-winning author as an adult. At the end of the poem a child is asked what he will be when he grows up, and he replies “an executioner” because the first thing he stole was the life of a fish. And there’s the signature on all of Armitage’s work. It begins in wit and ends in wonder. Armitage seeks out new ways to view ordinary life occurrences. According to Kellaway, “Reading these poems is like being driven at speed, in an unlicensed vehicle, to an unguessable destination.” It is completely unpredictable as to where the poem will end, even if you accept the initial premise, but that is the best part about it.
In our world where we always want the perfect and settling ending, it is nice to be surprised and have a story end with something not yet thought of. Nothing but praise to Simon Armitage then for being so unique in using things in ways that have yet to be seen.
A Closer Look: My Difference by Simon Armitage
By Andrew Hutson
I’ve been writing a lot of poems recently about my difference but my tutor isn’t impressed. He hasn’t said as much, yet it’s clear that as far as he’s concerned my difference doesn’t cut much ice.
Of all the poems in Armitage’s collection Seeing Stars, “My Difference” most directly addresses the question of identity. The poem is about a struggling poet who continually is told that his edge, what he writes about from his experiences, isn’t memorable enough. He calls this edge his difference. I find this to be a fantastic choice of words because the thing we all have in common is that we can all share and write about things unique to each of us, things different than those next to us.
He wants me to dress my difference in tinsel and bells and flashing lights, sit it on a float and drive it through town at the head of the May Day Parade.
Armitage touches on the fact that there is a certain “wow” factor that is expected from writers who write from experience but if a writer dresses up what has shaped him and led him to the point of writing, the writer loses his voice, his sincerity and his identity.
He wants me to lock my difference in a coal cellar until it comes of age then take it outside and reverse over with the ride-on mower, thus making my difference very different indeed, or auction my difference in the global marketplace, or film it getting a “happy slapping” in a busy street, or scream the details of my difference into a rabbit hole of the cosmos hoping to bend the ear of creation itself.
This is one of my favorite lines in this poem for a couple of reasons. It is masterfully written, really showing the chain of thought from Armitage and it really further explores the “wow” factor that might be expected from a writer. But some people aren’t like this and they don’t write about those things because that’s not how they have lived their life; and that leads into the end of the poem, the importance that you must keep your own identity:
And when I plead with him that no matter how small and pitiful my difference might seem to him, to me it makes all the difference in the world, he looks at me with an expression of complete and undisguised and irreversible indifference.
This last line, aside from the great full circle irony at the end, sums up Armitage’s idea of identity in this poem: no matter how uneventful or unexciting your experiences may seem to others, no matter how insignificant your difference may seem to others, it is what has shaped you, made you you. The difference you have from others is what makes you extraordinary and it’s important to never let anybody take that away.