Simon Armitage (Salt Studies in Contemporary Poetry)
(Cambridge: Salt, 2011)
Simon Armitage is one of the most compelling figures in contemporary literature,
most conspicuously because of his charismatic style, but also because he has brought
into poetry an irreverent, streetwise gusto and a kind of knowledge that often seems
to come from outside poetry altogether.
But this book is organised thematically in order to stress that Armitage is a considerable
intellectual who tackles a wide range of issues. Geography is one of these: his poetry
represents a shift in paradigm from time to space. So his poems continuously express
a spatial awareness which creates the particular kinds of specificity - of location
and imagery - which give his work depth in the metaphorical sense. Another key concern
is gender: Armitage’s reflections on masculinity are a consistent feature of all
his writing, and he is especially acute about the drives and insecurities that fuel
the most obsessive and off-handed, apparently gratuitously destructive behaviour.
However serious the issue, though, Armitage retains his affinity for the comic mode. He
is drawn to its earthy, unpretentious idioms, and its exhilirating habit of dwelling
on the possibilities of renewal and happy endings.
That makes the recent ecological turn in Armitage’s writing especially promising.
I am certain that this is a direction his work will increasingly take; but his fondness
for the comic mode ensures that he will approach the subject with a vivid sense of
how the ecocentric and the anthropocentric incongruously mingle, and of the still
open possibilities for change and regeneration.