Ezra Pound….For A Pound…. In Poundland

……and Social Cleansing The Easyjet Way!

AN EVENING WITH SIMON ARMITAGE….

In conversation with Claire Armistead from The Guardian

I went with high expectations last week to see Simon Armitage at The Tabernacle in Notting Hill, where he was in conversation with Claire Armistead, the books editor at The Guardian…………………………………. and he did not disappoint. Right from the outset, his talk was warm, engaging, frequently very witty and always thoughtful. And I didn’t have to wait long for those high expectations to be met when he began reading from his new collection The Unaccompanied, starting with a poem, Thank You For Waiting, that was so perfect for reading aloud you’d think it had been written for that very purpose (and he subsequently confirmed it had been written for EXACTLY that reason!). It’s clever, thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny but it’s also hard-hitting and tells you much about his values, his attitudes and his observations.

But hard-hitting as it and some of the other pieces were, his sense of humour is never too far away either! His lead in to ‘Poundland’, telling the story of one of his students letting him know that he’d seen copies of the ‘Collected Poems of Ezra Pound’ in Poundland and selling for a pound, came with the dare from the student that it was too good a story not to turn into a poem – which Armitage of course did – but he then overlays that with a pastiche of Homer and Pound’s writing about Odysseus descending into the Underworld – or in this case Poundland on Sheffield High Street. It’s brilliantly clever and very, very funny!

A Chair

All on its lonesome. Itself solitary.

Hieroglyph of the detainee.

This dining chair, the four bare legs,

Orphaned foal, turned to the wall.

SIMON ARMITAGE

He spent the first half hour or so reading aloud from The Unaccompanied. His style is measured, almost languid, while his accent is deep and slightly lilting – perfect for reading aloud. The combination of his reading skill and the little snippets he gave in the set up to each of the poems he read, brought each one of them much more vividly to life than they had seemed when I’d read the collection on the Tube on the way in to the event. For example, it gave a real resonance to poems like ‘Solitary’ when it’s descriptive lines about Robert Maudsley were given the added context that in Armitage’s pre-poet career as a Probation Officer, he’d come across Maudsley in his glass cell at Wakefield Prison and gave already humourous poems like ‘To Do List’ an almost added-permission to be even wittier and more engaging when Simon Armitage described how it really was about someone who was fixated on the land-speed record attempts of Donald Campbell and his ill-fated Bluebird.

His comments and thoughts gave added poignancy and beautiful simplicity to his poems ‘A Bed’ and ‘A Chair’, but perhaps best of all were the introductions and contexts which he gave to poems about his mother and father in the collection – on reading it in the book, I’d found the poem ‘Privet’ to be the kind of poem that moves you and makes you smile at the end but hearing his introduction to it simply took it to another level of intimacy.

Following on from his reading the discussion between Simon Armitage and Claire Armitstead was really interesting. I’ve seen a few of these interviews recently and this was definitely one of the better ones because Armitstead’s questions, while sharp and relevant, weren’t under any illusions about who we’d come to listen to – so they were open-ended enough to allow Simon Armitage the space to talk in greater depth and detail about his poems, his approach to writing and his thoughts about the collections itself. To top the evening off, the bit that usually makes me cringe, the ‘questions from the audience’, wasn’t that cringing – if fact their questions were interesting!

 

‘…… in The Unaccompanied, that characteristic swagger has been toned down, and the depths beneath his “simple language” are more apparent than ever’

TRISTRAM SAUNDERS IN THE SCOTTISH HERALD – MARCH 2017

Usually there’s always at least one eejit at these things who loves the sound of his own voice (it’s usually a bloke in my experience!) and asks a question which rambles on about sod-all for twenty minutes and which seems to me to have been constructed purely to show how clever the questioner is and the response from the author/poet a mere irrelevant by-product to their intellect! There was none of that cringeable stuff from those watching Simon Armitage which was good for two reasons – it meant I didn’t have some moron boring the arse off me with their performing-seal like desire to show off and it meant that Armitage had time to finish with what he’d done best all evening – read a couple more poems from the wonderful collection that is The Unaccompanied.

Overall it was a really good event and one I thoroughly enjoyed, for not only did I get to listen to one of my favourite poets, I got the literary equivalent to me of rubbing shoulders with the great and the good – for sitting right behind me was Matthew Hollis, not only Armitage’s agent but also the author of the wonderful, wonderful, Now All Roads Lead To France, about the poetry of Edward Thomas and the relationship between Thomas and Robert Frost. Alas to avoid the risk of going all starry-eyed over Hollis and acting like some teenager from a Take That concert (!!!) I beat a hasty retreat without waiting to get a signed copy of Armitage’s book – which I sort of regretted as soon as I left, but then again, by then I reckoned there was a beer in the pub by Westbourne Park Tube station with my name on it so I got to round off my evening with Armitage’s book and a pint of Guinness – pretty good end really.

If you’re interested in hearing a bit of the interview with Simon Armitage, I’d watch out for a Guardian Podcast on it as I would think it will be published as a podcast at some point before too long.

In addition if you’d like to hear the work of genius that is the poem ‘Thank You For Waiting’ you can try it in the video below. Enjoy!

The Unaccompanied by Simon Armitage was published by Faber and Faber earlier this year.

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