Simon Armitage - poetry

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Simon Armitage was born in Marsden, West Yorkshire in 1963. He studied Geography at Portsmouth, and Psychology at Manchester, qualified as a social worker and worked for six years as a probation officer. He has also worked as a shelf stacker, disc jockey and lathe operator. He is now a freelance writer and broadcaster. His work includes song lyrics, plays and scripts for TV and radio.

Armitage's first collection, Zoom, was published by Bloodaxe in 1989. Subsequent poetry books, all published by Faber, include Kid (1992), Book of Matches (1993), The Dead Sea Poems (1995), Moon Country (1996) and Cloud Cuckoo Land (1997).

Untitled Poem: “I am very bothered when I think...”

This poem comes from Book of Matches, 1993. It appears to be based on memories of Armitage's schooldays. He says that:

"most poetry has to come from personal experience of one kind or another."

The first two lines actually come from a probation service questionnaire, but Armitage has chosen to use them in a different context. Here he tells the story of a science lab prank that went wrong.

The person in the poem heated up a pair of tongs and then handed them to another person, presumably a girl. This girl innocently slipped them onto her fingers and was badly burnt. The doctor said that she would be "marked for eternity" by the ring-shaped scars. The narrator claims now that he was using this as a way of attracting her attention:

"that was just my butterfingered way, at thirteen,
of asking you if you would marry me."

The language in stanza two emphasises this idea of a marriage proposal with words such as "rings", "branded" and "marked for eternity".

Stanza two also departs from the more colloquial style of the rest of the poem by launching into a rather deliberate, self-conscious poetic style:

"O the unrivalled stench of branded skin"

This language is strong and vivid, and seems to imitate the style of earlier romantic poetry.

"Butterfingered" in line 13 is apt because of the clumsiness of the boy's attention seeking behaviour, but also because people used to put butter on burns to soothe the pain.

How seriously we take the narrator's feelings of guilt depends on the tone in which the first line of each stanza is read. "I am very bothered" is not a particularly strong expression, and one that could be read in a variety of ways. The first line of stanza two is almost laughing at itself because of the exaggerated style.

The speaker also seems to want to distance himself from his feelings by saying, in stanza three, "Don't believe me, please". This could be part of the awkwardness of a lad who feels he has to play a trick on a girl to get her attention, or it could be the shame or embarrassment of someone looking back on what he was like when he was younger.

The structure of the poem is important. It is written in fourteen lines and can be classed as a sonnet, which is a traditional form for love poetry. In one way this could be considered as making fun of this form because it is not a very romantic idea, but on the other hand it is about one person's attempt to attract another.

"Marked" and "at thirteen" are both separated from the rest of the lines by punctuation, thus giving more emphasis to them. The effect of the prank on the girl will be permanent, and yet the fact that the boy was only young might excuse what he did.

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In the first stanza, "name" and "flame" are positioned under each other. These make an internal rhyme and link the girl's name to a flame, perhaps suggesting a metaphorical flame of love.

The poem is addressed directly to the girl who was hurt. We have to decide how the narrator feels about her now. Is this a love poem?


This poem comes from Kid, 1992. It is all written in the past tense as though the poet is looking back on this man's life and assessing it.

He appeared to have two very different sides to ...

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