Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The White Stuff

The book is all about relationships. It starts with the relationship between Abbie and Felix, but more and more people get involved.
There's the dead born child which gets between them. Abbie then starts looking for her mother. This involves Felix as well because he chose to take the file. Abbie then creates an imaginary relationship between her dead mother and her dead child. It is Felix again who finds out that Abbie has a sister. When they go to meet the child and her mother, they are expected. An odd relationship develops. The headmaster is Abbies father. Since he impregnated his long-term lover again Abbie will also get a stepbrother. But this will never be the relationship they have because Abbie will take him up as her own child.
Jed is a caring father but still has to sleep under the trampoline from time to time. The friendship between him and Felix is challenged when Felix asks him to give him his sperm. This would also have oddly changed his relationship to Abbie.
Ruby grows up in a slightly chaotic familiy to whom Felix has more contact than he wishes too – since he does not consider them bad people. In order to protect her brother – whom she obviously loves – Ruby has herself raped by Jimmy. Felix also knows Jimmy from former days. Jimmy wanted to donate toys for children.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


In „Songbirds“, a documentry-musical, set in Downview women’s prison in Surrey, Simon Armitage works with his friend and director Brian Hill at Century Films to give female convicts an opportunity to tell their story.

The inmates share their background and the stories of their crimes. Many share the same terrible circumstances and experienaces of sexual abuse in childhood, domestic violance, rape and addiction.

As they talk about their lives and before and in prison they suddenly break into song, exploring different genres from Pop and R’n’B over Rap to Soft Rock ballad.

Among all songs, Maggie’s lullaby stands out. Since she went to prison (convicted of burglary), she hasn’t seen her three children. She will probably never see them again, as they are being adopted by a foster family. Nevertheless, as Armitage says „to say goodnight or goodbye to them, she wanted me to write a lullaby, based on her own words and feelings“ The product is haunting –a sweet yet melancholic song, loaded with emotion. Further, it is the only song about someone else. Whereas the other songs all tell the story of the singer, this lullaby is not auto-biographical in the strict sense. It is not about Maggie, but about and for the benefit of her children: a mother’s lullaby destined to her three children.

Simon Armitage states that „since meeting her, I've wondered if she still croons her lullaby through the bars of her cell window, sending her words up into the darkening sky over south London, hoping they might find their mark.“

In a way, then, this is the only song reaching out of prison, transcending the thick walls and iron bars – it still rings in my ears.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Horses vs. Horses

Armitage’s „Horses, M62“ offers a description of a traffic scene with „a dozen or so“ cars involved in a collision“.

The meataphor horse-for-car works fine, adding an aspect of mystery to the poem, as it may take the reader a while to dissolve the imagery. The horse theme is established by using images and terms pertaining to the semantic field of horses and horseback riding such as, „arse and tail“, „riderless charge“, „horseshoe and hoof“, „traverse“, and „jumps the barricades“– just to name a few.

Simon Armitage’s allegorical horses contrast with Ted Hughes’ horses in his 1957 poem „The Horses“. In this second poem, the horses are literal horses (altough an interpretation of the horses as statues of horses is valid as well.) and the overall tone of the poem is very mystical, dream-like, and at times dramatic or even romantic.

While Armitage’s horse poem is purely descriptive the first person narrator effect in the poet laurates’s text adds to the excitement and profoundness of the second poem. A vareity of themes are dealt with in this poem, among others memory and the contrast between nature and urban life. Armitage’s poem, on the other hand, does not present any direct claim or statement, but only a scene of allegorical horses („chess-piece head“ – meatphor within the metaphor).

Although these poems may seem similar at first glance they are, in fact, very different. However, both poems play with the concept of seeing the something (ordinary) as if it were something else (different and mysterious).

Reading "Five Eleven Ninety Nine" or Seems Like Today I’m Out Of My Mind. (What Was I Doing In There Anyway?)

It’s early. Way too early. I get out my folder and look for the poem we’re going to discuss today. It’s long. Way too long. Somebody said it was a really good poem. Well, I don’t really have a choice anyhow; I better start reading. „Five Eleven Ninety Five“. As the fire burns, my tired eyes zoom in and out of the text, capturing a detail here, overseeing another one there and maybe even unitentionally skipping some verses once in a while. The fire is tremendous and as a variety of things are being ritually, it seems, burned I grow tired and more tired. Suddenly, I start recognizing Christological allusions and religious elements. I’m surprised. I wasn’t expecting that from Armitage, but I barely know him, so...I highlight the re-telling of the biblical scene in which Jesus carries his own cross to his crucifixion; where he carries the „pole“ and „raises the cross to ist full height and hugs it like a bear“ and there’s „an incense of palm and cedar, the scent of olive and cypress“. Now, I’m all into the poem, still sleepy, but excited to trace back this unexpected bit of intertextuality. While I’m still pondering on the cross and the fire, the anouncer mumbles we have arrived and the train slows down to a halt. I check my watch: 8.20 a.m. Enough time to get to class. With pleasant anticipation, I get out of the train only to find that I’ve just arrived in Z├╝rich.

The Blog Test

It is not one test, but many. To begin with, the student must attend class regularly for a whole term.

It is a test of perseverance.

Every Tuesday, in the early morning, he has to take in new information and bring himself in in the discussions, regardless of his tiredness.

It is a test of self-restraint.

At lunchtime on the chosen day he takes the tram home from university to the peace, comfort and safety of his own home. But his roomie is at home: he is watching TV, whistling, tramping in and out for a chat, a coffee or the shopping list. At this point the student has second thoughts, but the idea of a further period of studying concentrates his mind.

It is a test of time.

With his laptop, he locks himself in the innermost room – a toilet without windows-and settles to the task. He is well practiced, for sure, though the pressure of wanting to do well cannot be ignored, and right now he will confess to ignorance and doubts.

It is a test of concentration, creativity, knowledge and discipline.

Eventually, miraculously, it happens. The amount seems reasonable. Not too stingy, not too flash.

The next stage is an expertness test. He must log in to the blog, create a profile, and post what he wrote. He’s ready to post. He waits.

That is not the end of the test. It is a test of guts now, a test of balls and a test of heart. He hits the post button.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Born in a Barn: Reflections on the Connection Between Music and Poetry

The connection between music and poetry has a long and indisputable tradition. There are many poets (such as Simon Armitage) eventually dedicating themselves to music, as well as there are numerous examples of musicians (such as Jim Morrison) publishing poetry at some point in their careers. Furthermore there are innumerable poems about music and its impact on us.

However, many literary critics seem to have problems with calling song lyrics poetry and Armitage himself does make a clear distinction, too: “If writing poems is like building up a papier-mache or matchstick model, layer by careful layer, piece by precarious piece, then the process of lyric writing, for me anyway, is more like whittling a piece of wood, stripping and slicing away until something clear and smooth comes into view.” In terms of the creative process, Armitage seems to experience lyric writing as something “rougher” than poetry writing.

In terms of the final product, he claims (as already mentioned in Cinzia’s post below) that “poems have their own music”. And in fact they do. Poetry is music without instruments. It has its own rhythm and melody. A song is always already an interpretation of the written word. It’s comparable to drama and the respective production of a play. Music can definitely make poetry more accessible, though, and Armitage, as a poet of the download generation, does a great job in connecting the two forms of art and thus maybe spark people’s interest in poetry in general.

Finally, I would like to quote a musician/poet who simply puts the subject of debate as follows: "Anything I can sing, I call a song. Anything I can't sing, I call a poem." May Bob Dylan live long and prosper.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Scaremongers-Born in a Barn

Simon Armitage say in an interview that there is no common technique of pop-lyrics and poetry to be interpreted the same way, is he sure about that? Can't you put a poem into music and lyrics into a song? He says, no. "Poems have their own music". So why does the song "You can do nothing wrong (In my Eyea) evoke his same poems then?

If you take this sing and read it as a poem, do you notice any difference? would you know it's not a poem? (line 8 of the song: the corduroy is back!)