Image  Faber & Faber/ Jason Bell

This page is not intended to be comprehensive; rather, it is to be used as a revision guide which mentions some, although certainly not all, of the aspects which you will need an awareness of for the examination.

Untitled ("I am very bothered...")

This poem is the same length as a sonnet, although it doesn't follow the rules in any other way. It is about a man remembering an incident from when he was 13. At school he heated the handles of a pair of scissors then offered them to a girl. We are given the strong impression that he had feelings for the girl and this was his 'butterfingered way' to get her attention. Much of the imagery and language reflects the theme of love and marriage: the offering of a hand, the rings, the rings' symbolism of eternity, the words' O the unrivalled' which sounds like they could be from an old, traditional love poem (like a sonnet), and the mention of a marriage proposal.

Poem

Written in the form of a sonnet (14 lines, regular rhyme and rhythm), this poem remembers the life of a man. It recalls good and bad aspects of his conduct. In the three quatrains (quatrain: a stanza with four lines) the first three lines are positive, followed by one negative line. The tone of the poem, the structure (regular, predictable), the rhythm ("ups" and "downs") and the rhyme (regular) all reflect this man's life. It is an instance of the form of Armitage's poetry matching the meaning. Even the title reflects the straightforward, unelaborate life of this man.

It Ain't What You Do, It's What It Does To You

In this poem Simon Armitage uses comparisons to show that just because something isn't conventionally seen to be exciting, beautiful, rewarding etc. doesn't mean it can't be. In doing this he also challenges assumptions about the 'proper' subjects for poetry and demonstrates that these experiences can be the source of powerful poetry. For example, through alliteration and clever use of the length of vowel sounds, he shows that skimming stones can be as beautiful and excite the same feelings of wonder as walking in the Taj Mahal. The main comparison is between parachuting and working with people with disabilities: he makes the point that both create the same feelings inside. Armitage calls it 'that sense of something else' and says it is like a 'tiny cascading sensation', a 'tightness in the throat', both physical descriptions of feelings. The title is important as it is applicable to each of the comparisons and it sums up Armitage's thoughts about experience.

Cataract Operation

Another poem that comments on the writing of poetry. Armitage uses a numbers of metaphors to represent damp washing on a line. Through the use of these metaphors a pigeon's tail feathers become the cards of a magician, a crimson (dark red) towel becomes a bull-fighter's cape, a shirt becomes a monkey and a group of hens are transformed into a 'company' of performers. Again the title is important: it can be interpreted in many ways. Armitage's point is that by trying to be clever with images a poet can (a) become blinded to reality, as if he's got a cataract; or (b) not say anything other than attempt to show off.

About His Person

This is another poem about a man and his life. It is made up of couplets (mostly rhyming couplets). The title is a phrase taken from the police procedure of cataloguing the possessions of a dead person. From the contents of his pockets we are able to build up a picture of his life; and we are offered clues about his death. There are images of death in the poem, many of them metaphors for death ("an analogue watch self-winding, stopped"). The poem has a tone of finality, matching the theme of a man's death. The only simile in the poem compares the "rolled up note of explanation" to "a spray carnation / But beheaded". This brings to mind not only funerals (the flower is often seen at funerals) but is also very final. Alternatively, it could be representative of the failed marriage: carnations are also wedding flowers, but this one is beheaded...

Preparing for the exam

  • Make sure you have read each of the poems as many times as possible; ideally you should know the poems without having to look at them.
  • Use this familiarity with the poems to make links between them, concentrating on themes and use of language.
  • Make sure the notes in your Anthology make sense to you; read them carefully so you know where the important parts are to be found.

Examination Tips

  • When writing about the poems, you will be expected to cover at least two poems. If you can, refer to more, even if in just one sentence. This will impress the examiner and show you can make appropriate connections between the poems.
  • When you make a point always try to support this with a quotation. When you have given the quotation show that you understand (a) what it means and (b) how the language in it contributes to the meaning (metaphors, similes, rhyme etc.)
  • Try to structure your response as follows:
    1. Give a main point about the poem in relation to the question
    2. Then a quotation which is short but supports your point
    3. Finally you should write about the language in the quotation - how does it get the meaning across?
  • Although you should only spend thirty minutes writing about Armitage's poems, you should aim to write about 1 1/2 to 2 pages in your answer booklet.