Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

"Seeing stars" by Simon Armitage (Faber and Faber, 2010)

It's not experimental poetry, it's mainstream Flash - about 40 pieces each laid out like prose (all left-aligned, though some with wider margins than others) and a page or two long. Had it been published as a prose book, no reader would have raised an eye-brow, and more appropriate reviewers might have been chosen. I liked "The Christening", "The Practical Way to Heaven", and "The Last Panda". I failed to like "An Accommodation", "Hop In, Dennis" and "Upon Opening the Chest Freezer", promising though the original ideas are. I didn't understand "Upon Unloading the Dishwasher", "Poodles", "A Nativity", or "The Delegates". "The Crunch" was either minor of I didn't understand it. Why does "Michael" have that title?

Endings can be a problem. "Beyond Huddersfield" had to have a good ending to justify the piece. It had a surprise ending instead. "Cheeses of Nazareth" didn't know how to end. Perhaps once the author came up with the title he couldn't let it go.

I noticed a tendency for him to use blends -

  • "The Last Panda" overlays the story of the last panda with the story of Ringo being the last surviving Beatle, to good effect
  • "Overtones" uses the standard meaning of the title, plus the use of it as a band name.
  • "The sighting of the century" combines bird-watching with celeb-hunting

The collection manages to be inventive, and the author can always pull a sentence out of the bag that makes one want to continue reading a flagging piece - e.g. "The huge, overburdening coat with the stiff, turf-like cloth, and its triceratops collar, and its mineshaft pockets, and the drunken punches of its flailing sleeves" (p.31)

Other reviews

  • Paul Batchelor (The most powerful piece here, "I'll Be There to Love and Comfort You" ... A hallmark of Armitage's writing is the way he adapts and extends overlooked aspects of Ted Hughes's writing. ... the best pieces in the collection twist and wriggle free from anything as obvious as a moral or even irony. Are they poems, or prose poems, or flash fiction? I'm not sure, but they're very more-ish; and there is more wit and adventure on display here than you'll find in many poets' careers.)
  • Jeremy Noel-Tod (As an experiment with an established voice, and a strange dream of 21st-century Britain, Seeing Stars is a triumph)
  • Tony Bailie (Each poem reaches a moment when the mood changes, a moment of epiphany that jolts the reader out of his comfort zone and the everyday shimmers slightly as perspectives shift. There is a dark humor here too, so dark that it can make you feel slightly uncomfortable. It is not a flawless collection and there are moments when you feel that Armitage is merely writing for the sake of writing, letting an image run away with itself to see where it takes him. The collection has a surreal, almost psychedelic feel, as if a stoned hippy felt an urge to write down all the images that came into his head because they seemed interesting but when read back are often just disconnected ramblings.)
  • Paul Sutton (there are striking weaknesses in this collection. I would list the predictability of its language, the limitations in its material and, above all, a nagging sense of unoriginality ... a brilliant line from 'The Cuckoo' is far more interesting, with more potential for development, than the poem itself ... - and it actually gets worse at the end, with an idea taken from Philip K. Dick's 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' ... Similarly, the premise for 'An Accommodation' is taken from that classic sitcom episode of 'Steptoe and Son'. Another problem is how Armitage brings a cosy domesticity to these dramatic monologues. Or more generously, he uses his trademark voice - in many ways an attractive and engaging one, but ill-suited to this material. He isn't adept at the required identity sculpting ... Maybe Armitage's so-so collection will impress British audiences, who are simply unaware of the richness of material available elsewhere. )
  • Alastair Beddow (Armitage’s ‘story-poems’ combine the narrative instinct of the short story (often employing the twist or inversion ending) and the sensibility and language of poetry ... The fluid or sometimes seemingly under-developed quality of many of Armitage’s story-poems arises from the demands of the form but also from the performative nature of the voice in the text, which makes the story-poems read like dramatic monologues or comic anecdotes. ... it remains to be seen whether Seeing Stars represents a significant new direction in his poetic trajectory, or just an experimental flirtation with a new poetic form.)
  • Goodreads

No comments:

Post a Comment