Saturday, December 04, 2010

Simon Armitage - a bit of a review


Thanks to Canberra poet Kathy Kituai who introduced me to Simon Armitage’s latest collection Seeing Stars (Faber and Faber 2010). The fly describes it as a hyper-vivid array of dramatic monologues, allegories, parables and tall tales. To me they often read as very short stories – and what is often categorised now as flash fiction perhaps? But if Simon says they are poems because I say they are (Frank, Times Online 2010) – or even story-poems as in Upon Opening the Chest Freezer - then so be it. I don’t really care. Except when it’s my own work. I had a phase of justifying a lot of my prose poems (see Two Lips Went Shopping, Spinifex Press, 2000) – justifying the margins that is – the poems can stand up for themselves if they want to. They began to be referred to as fiction. I was shocked. It didn’t last and I got over it. No. It didn't last because I jacked up. Maybe I do care. Around that time I was conscious of a ‘story-telling slant’. More recently, reading quite a bit about micro poetry and micro prose I picked up that in other parts of the world, a genre or sub-genre debate rages. Hmm I wonder if I kept notes…

Anyway… Simon is a master at putting his two feet and his pen and keyboard into the shoes of other beings, human and otherwise. On page one, in The Christening he is a sperm whale: The first people to open me up thought my head was full of sperm, but they were men, and had lived without women for many weeks, and were far from home. Stuff comes blurting out.

Later in the collection he is The Last Panda and laments: Every first Tuesday in the month the lady vet gives me a hand job but due to the strength of the tranquilliser the pleasure is all hers.

He does people just as well.

In Aviators a neat-looking chap responds to the agent’s offer of money in return for standing down from an overbooked flight. ‘But you’re the pilot,’ she said, then added, ‘Sir,’ as if she’d walked into a Japanese house and forgotten to take off her shoes. The narrator with his good teeth – like pilot’s teeth – offers to fly the plane. What can it take?

All our wrongdoings come together in Ricky Wilson Couldn’t Sleep. A 4 o’clock walk, a stray orange, a small Albanian girl in bare feet, the tangy residue of a lie. Language as a cover-up.

I’ve given away some of the good bits, but there are many, many more. It’s an enthralling read with twists and jabs and more of that humour. Australian writers who float into my mind as I turn the pages include the award winning short story writer Craig Cormick, poet Joanne Burns and maybe Phil Hammial too.

Seeing Stars by Yorkshire poet Simon Armitage is shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize.

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