Friday, January 29, 2010

Monkey and Poetry Convergence: Simon Armitage edition

I just finished reading Simon Armitage's The Shout: Selected Poems. Finally. This book took me forever to read. "Selected" collections often make me a little confused. Like, this is your best stuff? Really? In this 107 page collection there are five poems that I think are really wonderful. The rest are either okay or forgettable. Armitage loves to rhyme and God bless him he often does it well, but the first big chunk of the book is rhyming poem after rhyming poem with overlapping rhythm and subject matter and after awhile the individual poems kind of melted together like a box of crayons in the microwave.

There are some really good poems here, though. The title poem is great. "Gooseberry Season" is also very good. Same with "Not The Furniture Game" and "Birthday."

Then there's "The Back Man," a poem Armitage calls "the best poem I've ever written, although I don't know if I'm allowed to make that judgment." It also features monkeys in the first stanza. Here are the first 13 lines:
Five strong, we were, not including the guide,
five of us walking a well-trodden path
through the reserve, from the camp to the stream
and the flooded forest on the far side.
Dragonflies motored past like fish on the wing.
Beetles lifted their solar-panelled shells.
A bird, invisible, ran through its scale
like a thumbnail strummed on a metal comb.
The branches of trees were shelves in a shop
selling insect brooches and snakeskin belts
and miniature frogs with enamelled heads.
The monkeys fancied themselves as soft toys.
Blue orchids offered themselves without shame.
According to Armitage, the poem is "about the small miracles of everyday life, and wanting to celebrate those things." And that is what Armitage does best.

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