Simon Armitage is a contemporary poet, born in 1962, writing right now. He is one of the main poets in the OCR anthology, and also features in the WJEC and AQA anthologies for GCSE. In an interview for the BBC filmed a few years ago, Armitage explained his view on the purpose of poetry.

“We live in a world where we’re bombarded with stuff and nonsense, colour, noise, mish mash, usually lies. Poetry isn’t like that. Poetry tends to be one person saying what they actually mean with one voice.
“I think that life is ultimately meaningless. There is no particular significance in being alive, and once you accept that – or if that’s the way that you think – then you’ve got to go out and create significance. You’ve got to find meaning. You’ve even got to invent it. And you can do that through poetry.”

Typical features of Armitage’s work:
colloquial language, based on his northern working class heritage. He’s from Marsden which is an ex-industrial village on the Pennines, a rather bleak and hilly location with a parochial (local) attitude. Hence his father thinking it ‘bloody queer’ when his son came home with something as radical as a pierced ear in ‘My Father Thought it Bloody Queer‘. ‘True North‘ also deals with the issue of homecoming and (Northern) identity.

murderous narrators and amoral attitudes – as in ‘Gooseberry Season‘, ‘Hitcher’, ‘Poem‘. Like many poets, Armitage enjoys dramatising the mind of a psychopath. Don’t look for logic. There isn’t any.

final, deathly, bleak summing up: ‘Poem‘, ‘About His Person’ and ‘I’ve Made out a Will, I’m Leaving Myself’. This is a type of Memento Mori poetry. What will be left when we’re gone? Not much.

bitter, rejected men – in ‘Alaska‘, ‘Give‘. This is a mindset which Armitage seems to enjoy exploring. It’s the mismatch between the narrators’ perception and the (likely) reality that’s most interesting. Their suffering is egocentric, self-focused and self-inflicted. 

coming of age in: ‘Mother a Distance Greater than a Single Span’, ‘My Father…’, ‘Kid‘. Coming of Age also appears as a (dark) theme in Lord of the Flies, in Heaney’s poem ‘Follower’, in Grace Nichols’ ‘Praise Song for my Mother’ and Alice Walker’s troubled ‘Poem at Thirty-Nine‘.

– Armitage has written beautifully about the attacks on 9/11 in ‘Convergence of the Twain‘ and ‘Out of the Blue‘.

Get Analysis / A* Model Essays

+ Alaska Alaska is a fictional dramatic monologue where a man talks to his ex. The man is never named but we hear his detailed intimate thoughts. Armitage creates the character’s idiolect [distinct way of speaking] through the use of informal, colloquial language. The character uses fragmentary utterances [incomplete sentences] like ‘big deal’ and ‘so you upped and went’. Armitage starts the poem with the word ‘so’, which makes it feel as if the narrator is part way through a conversation… [read more]

 + Give A man is begging a woman(?) for love, which she will not give to him. Armitage uses the imagery of homelessness to show he’s lost without her. Then he uses theatrical imagery to get across how far she controls him. He will perform any ordeal for her and creates a kind of ladder of favours which he ranks ‘copper’, ‘silver’, ‘gold’, ‘frankincense’ and ‘myrrh’. He says he’s trapped in ‘chains’. Then he complains that she only gives him ‘tea’ – a metaphor for almost nothing. He wants more. This is a poem about unrequited love… [read more]

Gooseberry Season In Gooseberry Season, Armitage dramatises a murder in a cool, calm way which leaves an eerie aftertaste. The narrator’s detached tone and unbroken narrative slides over the murder too easily and the disconnection between emotion and action is part of what gives this poem its power. The poem begins with the chatty, colloquial expression ‘Which reminds me’, and feels as if the poet or character is talking to us… [read more]

Kid In ‘Kid’ and ‘True North’ Armitage plays with the theme of identity. In ‘Kid’, he uses the extended metaphor of the Batman/Robin relationship to show the theme of coming of age, whereas in ‘True North’, he returns home – and deals with the issue of the dual yet separate identities of the Falkland Islands / Malvinas. ‘Kid’ uses iambic pentameter with a strong rhyme scheme and fast, punchy rhythm to create the feel of ‘Robin’s’ upbeat, almost aggressive voice… [read more]

+ My Father Thought it Bloody Queer The poet narrates a true experience with his own father from when he was a teenager. In the final stanza, the poet looks back, aged ‘twenty-nine’. The poet marks the time shift by shifting from past into present tense. This poem is a nostalgic look back at a defining moment from Armitage’s childhood, his relationship with his father and how he feels about it now. From the first words of the title, ‘My father’ shows that Armitage’s memory of his childhood, like the poem, is dominated, looked over, by his father… [read more]

+ Out of the Blue  ‘Out of the Blue’ is a dramatic monologue spoken by one of the people inside the twin towers on 9/11, from inside the burning building. The effect is of extreme close-up on a tiny point in space in time, almost in 1:1 narrative time. The event is narrated as it happens – an appeal to a second person who could not be listening. This creates an eerie effect: of an event we cannot touch, of lost people who could not speak to us, even though we watched at the time or later: the flames, the people who jumped (effectively committing suicide): ‘wind-milling, wheeling, spiralling, falling’. It’s graceful, fluid, fast: a plunge to the death. The effect is ghostly, of a disembodied voice talking directly to us… [read more]
+ Poem The theme of ‘Poem’ is that we’d rather not judge people or look at the ugliness in their character. The poem seems to weigh up a man’s life. He’s never named and left anonymous. It feels a bit like a final judgement or obituary because it uses the past tense and seems to cover all the main events of the man’s life. Normally an obituary would only cover the good bits, but this poem includes bad parts too. The narrator seems to be omniscient – able to see into good behaviour, as well as the bad behaviour that would normally be private and hidden… [read more]

To Poverty This classically styled poem is an Ode. It’s addressed to the personification of Poverty, and uses iambic pentameter on the whole, with seemingly random slips from the style – as if he runs out of beats and is clipped short – just like poverty itself. Rhyming couplets seem regular at first, at the head of each stanza, but gradually break down and disconcerting half-rhymes appear. Towards the end, the couplet has dropped to the foot of the stanza. This shifting gives a slightly unsettling effect, as if the structure is sliding…. [read more]

The Convergence of the Twain ‘The Convergence of the Twain’ stops time – immediately after the collapse of the twin towers on 9/11. It begins in a strange silence, with airy, elegantly formal language – ‘architecture of air’, the alliteration emphasising the open emptiness of the vowels – the nothing, where the literal, ‘architecture’, once was – now catastrophically gone. ‘Here is’, is ironic – the definiteness of, ‘here’, and the present tense, ‘is’, relate to something that is not here any longer. This is a stanza of absence: ‘nothing stands’. In this image, it is as if the sudden nothingness of the World Trade Centre is so traumatically vivid that it has become a thing that can, ‘stand’. The final phrase, ‘free sky, unlimited and sheer’ is almost onomatopoeic. Fricatives, liquids and long-vowels open up a vast, empty sky… [read more]

True North The beginning of ‘True North’ describes the journey in matter-of-fact terms, linking to Armitage’s Northern heritage (Yorkshire, Marsden) of plain language, and unglamorous ‘cold’ ‘iced over’ and the loneliness of the setting in ‘unmanned’ stations. This suggests a cold welcome as if he’s not totally at ease. He seems to find it smaller, suggesting he feels he has grown, describing the place as looking ‘stopped’ a mere ‘clutch of houses’ in a ‘toy snow storm’ – seeing it from a distance suggests he reconnects with his roots uncomfortably, seeing the smallness of it, separated…. [read more]