Simon Armitage came onto my radar on The Review Show, as did Tom Paulin and other critics. I picked his book up in the library one time and read an impressive abstract paragraph or so. Just a few lines, but they told me more than enough. I thought two things: who the hell is this guy and where the hell has he been, because so many poets are penning verse which for me takes itself too seriously, tries too hard to be clever clogs literature, and worst of all commits the cardinal sin of not even rhyming. I swear, poetry can be an excuse for just making mad bull crap up with zero regard for the rules we learned at school. Since then I’ve read one of his poetry books whole. One standout poem in particular, Horses, M62, about horses on the M62, was a fave.
When you hear someone speaking/reading, all keen and eager on the first or second row, you are usually distracted by their physical presence (not to mention surroundings). It can be like meeting a celebrity. You take in their posture, their clothing, their jewellery, everything down to their cotton socks. You don’t mean to, but it’s natural. You kind of focus on the lips especially, because they are always moving.
And in doing this, the message can be sidetracked by said distractions. There’s really no need for any of this with Simon. I recommend, if you get to hear him read, to close your eyes. You should close your eyes for him if you close your eyes for anyone. You want to clearly hear every word. Not just with your ears, but with your mind. Listening to Armitage recite with your eyes closed is like being in a very funny abstract movie. Honestly, it is. What a blessing there is a poet out there who can let the words do all the work for him. All the personal image and public persona thingy is a hindrance, to be frank. The words are all it is ever about and if they are magical and hysterical then the mouth behind their stylish cadence becomes almost irrelevant. The person is merely the vessel.
What a privilege to hear undiluted talent spill out from someone so effortlessly. As he said himself, it is all about exposure to people better than yourself so you can raise your own bar to or above their standards. Amen to that amigos.