Monday, April 19, 2010

Out of the Blue: A Day in the Life of…

Armitage’s 9/11 poems „Out of the Blue“ vaguely sketch a day in the life of an unknown victim of the attacks who worked in one of the towers of the WTC. The sequence is opened with the engraving on the protagonist’s urn: “All lost. / All lost in the dust. / Lost in the fall and the crush and the dark. / Now all coming back.” In the following 12 poems, he gives an account of his very last day from the “breakfast to go to” in the streets of Manhattan to his tragic death.

In the second poem, the protagonist is on his way to work. The implied traffic lights (“Walk. Don’t Walk. Walk. Don’t Walk.”) might also indicate the opportunity not to go to work and thus being spared. However, the future victim decides to go to work and has his coffee to go (“an adrenalin shot / in a Styrofoam cup”) before taking the elevator to his office in the WTC (“Then plucked from the earth, / rocketed skyward, a fifth a mile / in a minute, if that.”). The elevator moves so fast that his body even arrives before his soul (“The body arrives, / the soul catches up”). In the fourth poem, the protagonist gives an exhaustive account of his desk in the office: the listed items reveal that he must be English (“a rock from Brighton beach”, “the flag of St George”, “a cricket ball”).

In the fifth poem, the first plane hits. Armitage gives the beautiful metaphor of the two towers as the prongs of a tuning fork “testing the calm” before being struck. This poem also makes a reference to the enormous aftermath of 9/11: “Then the world re-aligns, corrects itself”. The sixth poem lists numerous people working in the WTC at the time of the attacks. Abdoul is the only one who is mentioned more than once: he tries to call his mother at home in lines 4, 15 and 19 (the initial letters of the first four lines even produce the word MAMA). It is not clear if Abdoul works in the WTC as well or if he is one of the hijackers (this assumption clearly marks me as a post-9/11 reader, though, and unfortunately emphasizes the concluding lines of Armitage’s sequence). The seventh poem portrays the chaos among the people in the towers after the planes hit but before the buildings collapsed. It is somehow ironic that the emergency call 911 corresponds with the date of the attack. There is a caesura in the middle of the poem: the first 20 lines are retold but the other way round. This emphasizes the dead end the people in the towers have come to, they are totally helpless. The eighth poem takes up the option of jumping off the towers for the first time. However, our protagonist is still afraid of doing so (“It’s not in my blood / to actually jump. / I don’t have the juice. / But others can’t hold. / So a body will fall. And a body will fall.”). He still hopes for rescue: “you have noticed now /
that a white cotton shirt is twirling, turning. / In fact I am waving, waving. / Small in the clouds, but waving, waving. /
Does anyone see / a
soul worth saving? / So when will you come?” They have never come, though. It’s not clear whether he jumped in the end or not, but he absently dies between the twelfth and the thirteenth poem which is dedicated to the clean-up.

In “Out of the Blue”, Armitage gives a voice to all those individuals who actually died in the towers and could not tell their story. By means of the narrative mode the poems are written in, the reader can identify with the victim (at least to a certain extent). The sequence ends with a bunch of unanswerable questions and the conlusion that “everything changed” and “nothing is safe” any more. Sad but true.


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  2. Before being published in 2008, this sequence of poems was processed into a short film that was broadcasted on Channel 5 and won the 2006 Royal Television Society Documentary Award. The protagonist is played by famous English actor Rufus Sewell (also to be seen in “A Knight’s Tale” with Heath Ledger). You can watch it in full length on YouTube: (part I) (part II) (part III) (part IV)

  3. Very sensitively handled by the cut price Ted Hughes replacement Yorkshire luvvie lookalike.

    Love it. 10000/10, very excited by Si at the minute. I'm thinking about lager and empty uncaring lager cans straifed along the top of one's telly and fridge, but in a cod-semi ironic avant-post meander of dander and dabble genrally yer 'onor - Si pie says man honor, ip dip dog shit, as me and A used t'say lahd.

    A kinda elongated Poetry Of Everything Theory Si's got in Hudders and Wakey, sticking it to Farley barmy, who are yer, who are yer, the Scouse muppet.

    Si's gorra luvvie 'edder air innit, sorta like forever Ted.