Simon Armitage’s Seeing Stars and translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:
Armitage; a step in the evolution of language.
Armitage; a step in the evolution of language.
By Tom Curr
In his heart, Simon Armitage is a storyteller. He mixes satire, fantasy, comedy and horror with a fresh and newfangled use of language to acquaint his readership with the creative settings he creates in his poetry.
Seeing Stars is a true triumph of mixing poetry and prose to create a dreamlike description of twenty-first century Britain and its stereo-types, flaws and magnificence. In his prose poem, ‘The Practical way to Heaven’ (page 43), Armitage parodies the stereotypical divide in Britain between London and non-London folk. He creates an extremely comic scenario in which the so-called “London people” are convinced that the north is now safe from the disgrace that is a pie. However, the northerners, desperate for the artistic approval of the Londoners, cannot ignore their passion for pie and secretly bathe in a giant steak pastry: “We’re pie people. Our mothers and fathers were pie people, and their mothers and fathers before them. Pies are in our blood.” He finds an eclectic mix of crafted, poetic imagery, “like the sails from a flotilla of tiny yachts in a distant bay” and fresh, colloquial, and contemporarily vibrant lexis, “announced a nasaly Maggie over the PA system” to resonate both artistry and modernity. Another example of such amalgamation is found in the previous poem ‘The Knack’ (page 41). The beautiful descriptive line, “like a cross section of the Alps or a graph of Romany populations over the centuries” is shortly followed by the line, “Then James Tate, a poet much admired in America, went by in an autogyro, flicking Boris the V-sign”. This is Armitage’s most precious endowment; his flair and artistry with language encompasses that of a classically trained bard as well as that of a 21st century slam poet and is a link to his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
It had to be a wordsmith with Armitage’s rare ability to tackle contemporizing a 14th century romance. He has the skill set to remain true to the craftsmanship of the unknown Middle-English poet while, in the words of a Sunday Telegraph critic, “liberating Gawain from academia”. For example, Armitage translates the line, “Laykyng of enterludes, to laghe and to syng” to “between sessions of banter and seasonal song”. Not only does he utterly modernize the line and expose ites meaning for an uneducated readership, he also maintains the craftsmanship; replacing the repeated ‘l’ sounds in the original line with a, perhaps more effective, sibilance (‘s’ sounds).
To conclude, Simon Armitage is a much needed link between, the old school and the new. He has acquired the skills of both and is a master craftsmanship of language. And, like all the best things, he’s from England.*
Editor’s Note: Tom himself is British born and bred
Must Love Simon Armitage
By Jasmine James
The World English Dictionary defines love as “to have passionate desire, longing, and feelings for something or someone.” Just about any person in a heterosexual relationship knows that love is a complex feeling and when trying to please both sexes it becomes even more difficult. The poems of Seeing Stars scream the voice of Simon Armitage. Through his book of poems he creatively addresses the issues of love. He illustrates betrayal, true love, and the overall mystery of what love is and how both men and women take their own approach to this universal but abstract feeling. Although this intense emotion still remains a semi-mystery, Armitage very well represents the different type of feelings and proves that true love endures all.
“An Accommodation” shows that true love never dies. Although a relationship may change, what originally separated a couple may be the very thing that brings them back together. The net that divided the home of couple helped them to rekindle their relationship. As it is initially placed “the net was the net, and we didn’t so much as pass a single word through its sacred veil, let alone send a hand crawling beneath it, or, God forbid, yank it aside and go marching across the line (4).” As impermeable as the net seems to be, it is the vary thing that unites the couple, as proven “but there it remained, and remains to this day, this tattered shroud, this ravaged lace suspended between our lives, keeping us inseparable and betrothed (5).” Years passed and yet the net still remained, like a symbol of the love they shared. This is also a representation that soul mates may endure many trials but they will still be stable for the other person.
For many sentimental reasons, people often believe that there is one special person just for them. The idea that someone out there is their soul mate gives many people closure and the confidence to find that person. Despite what the world is like around you there is one person that is always there for you. “Last Words” is the epitome of that theory. As Dean is about to take his last breaths he ask: “‘do you think we could have made it together?’ ‘I think so,’ she whispered. ‘I don’t like courgettes,’ Dean joked, and those were his last words. ‘I would have done broccoli instead,’ she breathed, ‘or even cauliflower. Whatever you asked for I would have made (22).’” Even the fact that Dean and C die together is a symbol of true love. Them dying at the same time would never let them find another person that would be just right for them as they are for each other.
True love is not something that is meant to hurt. If it is really supposed to be true then there is no doubt that both people will be genuine about it. “The Cuckoo” has another one of Armitage’s strange hoax. Although James feels that he really loves Carla she is merely acting. “’Didn’t it mean anything, Carla?’…’Dunno,’she shrugged. ‘I’d have to check the file.’ James could have punched a hole in her chest and ripped out the poisonous blowfish of her heart (7).” The fact that she is able to shrug it off shows that it is not true love and can easily be broken apart.
Armitage proves that true love is practically unexplainable. The fact that two people can love each other so much it defies all odds against it. True love is able to rebound and find each other again. The fact that two people find each other just as they are about to die is not simply chance but it is meant to happen. The “rule” that says there is one soul mate for each person makes it possible. Through his poems Armitage shows that he knows something about love.