Simon Armitage – Seeing Stars – Faber & Faber 2010
The jacket illustration says it all: a hotchpotch horse seemingly missing a hind leg with a dog’s muzzle, purportedly inspired by a poem inside titled “Poodles”. What is actually inside is a hotchpotch of non-poetry that leaves a distinct sensation that something else, and more important, is missing.
I hope Simon Armitage has his Yorkshire tongue firmly in his Yorkshire cheek. If not, we are being seriously taken for a ride. After reading four or five poems into the collection, the pieces become tediously contrived and predictable, at best, and at worst simply trite and silly. The format is endlessly repeated – a setting the scene followed by a denouement that quickly loses any surprise element.
The fashion for the long and ludicrous title is very much in evidence, so is flippancy, funny ha-ha jokes and a tiresome lack of real substance: no passion or compassion, no anger, no desire. The verbal fireworks fizzle out very soon to become mundane, obvious, matter of fact, dull and irritating. Word games that play the same dull note over and over.
You could right justify the margins and get 1 or 2 page short stories. The feeling is that they made it into print as “pretend poems” because they hardly stand up to analysis as stories. Once again, we get the popular prose-poem wool pulled over our eyes, where the whole is much less than its parts (i.e. neither prose nor poetry).
Despite talking about so many different lives, the overall impact is lifeless, constructed and soulless, like butterflies pinned in display cases rather than vibrant with flight.
What is missing apart from the leg on the cover? What is missing, as hinted at above, is passion and compassion – these portraits are cold and clinical, contrived and concocted. A mere exercise in creativity where empty, worldly inventiveness takes the place of insight or feeling in a spontaneous overflow of nonsense.
There are also a few “lifts” – from The Truman Show and Steptoe & Son, for instance. The style eventually establishes the subtlety of a hammer hitting the same nail again and again in a kind of gumbo “let’s write another creatively daft poem” approach.
There is a kind of selfishness in these poems, which makes a second reading very unrewarding. The reader is kept at arm’s length, patronised and merely required to acknowledge the skill and daring of the poet. Yet it all becomes terribly mechanical – and as you can see, I didn’t find one, not even one, line or phrase to quote.
We are living the F-Generation of poets: flimsy, flippant, fatuous and facetious.