Simon Armitage is currently one of England’s most esteemed authors. As recently elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford it is impossible to ignore the literary upheaval this man has created. In genres ranging from poetry and translations to radio and television scripts, Armitage’s success and credibility is justified by his number of accolades. He has won the Keats-Shelley Prize for Poetry, was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize, and received the Hay Medal for Poetry to name a few.
With an impressive career of professional writing behind him, it is difficult to choose what of Armitage’s work to review, however a recent collection of his poetry, Paper Aeroplane, includes selection from Armitage’s poetry work since 1989 to 2014. This collection is the best source to offer the interested reader a varied glimpse at the best poetic works of one of England’s most prominent poets.
The style of Armitage’s poetry is contemporary. I would classify his work as post-modern. This style is refreshing for a modern audience whose appreciation of classical poetry and form are either underdeveloped or non-existent. Armitage’s work is therefore much more approachable. It is not, like many modern readers fear when they hear the word poetry, about confounding the reader with sweeping observations about the universe and philosophical ponderings designed to delight only the most highly educated and elite. In fact the poetry is deeply human, filled with simple observations. Armitage takes the smallest detail and shows the reader why it is important. He overlooks nothing. His work is universal. To put it into a single word Armitage’s work is inclusive.
At the same time, the poetry featured in Paper Aeroplane is both humorous and beautiful. Few could balance the two as well as Armitage. In the opening poem, ‘Snow Joke’, Armitage begins the poem as though setting up a joke. “Heard the one about the guy from Heaton Mersey?” The man, as we come to learn, had several lovers who were all secret from each other. Over eager to see one of them, the man braves a snowstorm to see her, only to become trapped in his car, and buried by snow. “And of course, there isn’t a punchline,” writes Armitage. The man simply freezes to death, to be discovered by three men who find him with VOLVO printed backwards into his forehead. Armitage handles the subject with such grace and beauty in the phrasing of his lines that this does not come off at all as disrespectful. It is merely an observation. Who knew beauty could be found in such a lonely death? Such irony is inherent in Armitage’s poetry.
The shortcoming of Paper Aeroplane is in the format of the book itself. It is probably unavoidable for a collection of past work to come across a bit as self-advertising. With all of the previous works listed and Faber and Faber recommending further reading by Armitage it is the perfect way to get more money off of their bestselling poet. This is only a minor flaw however. It comes with the territory of merchandising and the economy of the literary world. This does not reflect badly on Armitage himself and certainly doesn’t discredit his work.
Simon Armitage is the perfect person to start with for those who say they don’t like poetry. Paper Aeroplane offers an entertaining and all-inclusive insight into the written repertoire of his work.
A Painted Bird for Thomas Szasz
Not the furniture Game
About His Person
To His Lost Lover
The Two of Us
‘Meanwhile, somewhere in the state of Colorado’
vi ‘It was one small step’