Simon Armitage used to be a social worker, now he's a world class poet. A `kid' from Huddersfield who manages in these poems to create a kind of magic, an effortless-seeming cornucopia of words that both thrill and caution, cauterise and twist in the gut. He has his magical gifts wrapped up with newspaper and barbed wire, his images are street-level, sarky, litanies of lives and living. Poems angry and uncouth, like their subjects, or down in the political morass - take this for instance, a verse from 'Lines Thought to Have Been Written on the Eve of the Execution of a Warrant for His Arrest':
Down Birdcage Walk in riots or wartime
we will not hear of her hitching her skirt
or see for ourselves that frantic footwork,
busy like a swan's beneath the surface.
But quickly our tank will stop in its tracks;
they'll turn the turret lid back like a stone;
inside, our faces set like flint, her name
cross-threaded in the barrels of our throats.
No guess needed as to whom that refers.
'To His Lost Lover' may be the best poem ever about a love affair that wasn't, and 'A Week And A Fortnight' is like a glimpse into uncovered lives only ever read about in shocking headlines. There is a certain slickness, something of a flash, urgent, disregard to some of this work. Perhaps evidence of the craft that goes into poetry-making is missing? If so, it's as it should be. Something especially in the internal rhythms, the beautiful power of the enjambments. Though I feel this is only because it reads effortlessly, and is so blindingly apposite. These lines below from 'A Book of Matches' are haunting:
Tonight I'm blank, burnt out, parked
in the garage with the engine running, in the dark.
The ones who know me hold me at arm's length,
the others want to see me dead.
I tear the last match from the book,
fetch it hard and once
across the windscreen. In the glass
I'm taken with myself, caught in the act -
conducting light, until the heat licks
up against my thumb and fingertips, unlocks
my hand, gives me a start, trips
something in the flashbulb of my heart.