Simon Robert Armitage, CBE, FRSL is an English poet, playwright and novelist who has been Poet Laureate since 10 May 2019. He is also professor of poetry at the University of Leeds and succeeded Geoffrey Hill as Oxford Professor of Poetry when he was elected to the four-year part-time appointment from 2015–2019.
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Famous Simon Armitage Poems
I Say I Say I Say
Anyone here had a go at themselves
for a laugh? Anyone opened their wrists
with a blade in the bath? Those in the dark
at the back, listen hard. Those at the front
in the know, those of us who have, hands up,
let’s show that inch of lacerated skin
between the forearm and the fist. Let’s tell it
like it is: strong drink, a crimson tidemark
round the tub, a yard of lint, white towels
washed a dozen times, still pink. Tough luck.
A passion then for watches, bangles, cuffs.
A likely story: you were lashed by brambles
picking berries from the woods. Come clean, come good,
repeat with me the punch line ‘Just like blood’
when those at the back rush forward to say
how a little love goes a long long long way.
I Am Very Bothered
I am very bothered when I think
of the bad things I have done in my life.
Not least that time in the chemistry lab
when I held a pair of scissors by the blades
and played the handles
in the naked lilac flame of the Bunsen burner;
then called your name, and handed them over.
O the unrivalled stench of branded skin
as you slipped your thumb and middle finger in,
then couldn’t shake off the two burning rings. Marked,
the doctor said, for eternity.
Don’t believe me, please, if I say
that was just my butterfingered way, at thirteen,
of asking you if you would marry me.
About His Person
Five pounds fifty in change, exactly,
a library card on its date of expiry.
A postcard stamped,
unwritten, but franked,
a pocket size diary slashed with a pencil
from March twenty-fourth to the first of April.
A brace of keys for a mortise lock,
an analogue watch, self winding, stopped.
A final demand
in his own hand,
a rolled up note of explanation
planted there like a spray carnation
but beheaded, in his fist.
A shopping list.
A givaway photgraph stashed in his wallet,
a kepsake banked in the heart of a locket.
no gold or silver,
but crowning one finger
a ring of white unweathered skin.
That was everything.
And if it snowed and snow covered the drive
he took a spade and tossed it to one side.
And always tucked his daughter up at night
And slippered her the one time that she lied.
And every week he tipped up half his wage.
And what he didn’t spend each week he saved.
And praised his wife for every meal she made.
And once, for laughing, punched her in the face.
And for his mum he hired a private nurse.
And every Sunday taxied her to church.
And he blubbed when she went from bad to worse.
And twice he lifted ten quid from her purse.
Here’s how they rated him when they looked back:
sometimes he did this, sometimes he did that.
It Ain’T What You Do, It’s What It Does To You
I have not bummed across America
with only a dollar to spare, one pair
of busted Levi’s and a bowie knife.
I have lived with thieves in Manchester.
I have not padded through the Taj Mahal,
barefoot, listening to the space between
each footfall picking up and putting down
its print against the marble floor. But I
skimmed flat stones across Black Moss on a day
so still I could hear each set of ripples
as they crossed. I felt each stone’s inertia
spend itself against the water; then sink.
I have not toyed with a parachute cord
while perched on the lip of a light-aircraft;
but I held the wobbly head of a boy
at the day centre, and stroked his fat hands.
And I guess that the tightness in the throat
and the tiny cascading sensation
somewhere inside us are both part of that
sense of something else. That feeling, I mean.
The Golden Toddy
We hunted, swept the planet pole to pole
to capture a glimpse of that rare species.
Through a thermal lens we spotted a shoal,
picked up the trail of nuggety faeces,
then tagged the shiniest beast in the pride,
mounted a camera on its gleaming horn,
bolted a microphone into its hide.
A first: toddies in flight, asleep, in spawn . . .
After months in the field, the broken yolks
had gilded and glazed the presenter’s boots;
the sponsor’s lover wore a precious skull
for a brooch, out-glinting the best boy’s tooth.
Rank bad form. But the creature itself shone,
perched on the clapper-board, the golden one.
Just how it came to rest where it rested,
miles out, miles from the last farmhouse even,
was a fair question. Dropped by hurricane
or aeroplane perhaps for some reason,
put down as a cairn or marker, then lost.
Tractor-size, six or seven feet across,
it was sloughed, unconscious, warm to the touch,
its gashed, rhinoceros, sea-lion skin
nursing a gallon of rain in its gut.
Lashed to the planet with grasses and roots,
it had to be cut. Stood up it was drunk
or slugged, wanted nothing more than to slump,
to spiral back to its circle of sleep,
dream another year in its nest of peat.
We bullied it over the moor, drove it,
pushed from the back or turned it from the side,
unspooling a thread in the shape and form
of its tread, in its length, and in its line,
rolled its weight through broken walls, felt the shock
when it met with stones, guided its sleepwalk
down to meadows, fields, onto level ground.
There and then we were one connected thing,
five of us, all hands steering a tall ship
or one hand fingering a coin or ring.
Once on the road it picked up pace, free-wheeled,
then moved up through the gears, and wouldn’t give
to shoulder-charges, kicks; resisted force
until to tangle with it would have been
to test bone against engine or machine,
to be dragged in, broken, thrown out again
minus a limb. So we let the thing go,
leaning into the bends and corners,
balanced and centred, riding the camber,
carried away with its own momentum.
We pictured an incident up ahead:
life carved open, gardens in half, parted,
a man on a motorbike taken down,
a phone-box upended, children erased,
police and an ambulance in attendance,
scuff-marks and the smell of broken rubber,
the tyre itself embedded in a house
or lying in a gutter, playing dead.
But down in the village the tyre was gone,
and not just gone but unseen and unheard of,
not curled like a cat in the graveyard, not
cornered in the playground like a reptile,
or found and kept like a giant fossil.
Not there or anywhere. No trace. Thin air.
Being more in tune with the feel of things
than science and facts, we knew that the tyre
had travelled too fast for its size and mass,
and broken through some barrier of speed,
outrun the act of being driven, steered,
and at that moment gone beyond itself
towards some other sphere, and disappeared.
Here on the Hard, you’re welcome to pull up and stay;
there’s a flat fee of a quid for parking all day.
And wandering over the dunes, who wouldn’t die
for the view: an endless estate of beach, the sea
kept out of the bay by the dam-wall of the sky.
Notice the sign, with details of last year’s high tides.
Walk on, drawn to the shipwreck, a mirage of masts
a mile or so out, seemingly true and intact
but scuttled to serve as a target, and fixed on
by eyeballs staring from bird-hides lining the coast.
The vast, weather-washed, cornerless state of our mind
begins on the Hard; the Crown lays claim to the shore
between low tide and dry land, the country of sand,
but the moon is law. Take what you came here to find.
Stranger, the ticket you bought for a pound stays locked
in the car, like a butterfly trapped under glass;
stamped with the time, it tells us how taken you are,
how carried away by now, how deep and how far.
The sun comes like a head
through last night’s turtleneck.
A pigeon in the yard turns tail
and offers me a card. Any card.
From pillar to post, a pantomime
of damp, forgotten washing
on the washing line.
So, in the breeze:
the olé of a crimson towel.
the cancan of a ra ra skirt,
the monkey business of a shirt
pegged only by its sleeve,
of a handkerchief.
I drop the blind
but not before a company
of half a dozen hens
struts through the gate,
looks round the courtyard
for a contact lens.
I was pegging out your lime-green dress;
you were hoping the last of the sun
might sip the last few beads of drip-dry water
from its lime-green hem.
I had a blister-stigmata the size of an eye
in the palm of my hand
from twisting the point of a screw
into the meat of the house. Those days. Those times.
The bird was crossing the gravel path
in the style of a rowing boat crossing dry land.
Struck with terror when I held it tight
in the gardening-gloves of humankind, we saw for ourselves
the mouse-fur face and black moustache,
the squab of breastmeat under its throat,
the buff-brown coat and blue lapels,
the painted inside of its mouth,
the raw, umbilical flute of its tongue
sucking hard at the sky for the taste of air.
Setting it free, it managed no more than a butterfly stroke
to the shade of the unnamed tree, where we let it be.
They say now that the basis of life
in the form of essential carbon deposits
could have fallen to earth as a meteorite, or comet,
and that lightning strikes from banks of static
delivered the spark that set life spinning. It’s a beginning.
But the three-letter bird was death, death thrown in from above,
death as a crash-brained, bone-smashed, cross-feathered bullet,
so we could neither kill it nor love it.
It is not through weeping,
but all evening the pale blue eye
on your most photogenic side has kept
its own unfathomable tide. Like the boy
at the dyke I have been there:
held out a huge finger,
lifted atoms of dust with the point
of a tissue and imagined slivers of hair
in the oil on the cornea. We are both
in the dark, but I go on
drawing the eyelid up by its lashes
folding it almost inside-out, then finding
and hiding every mirror in the house
as the iris, besieged with the ink
of blood rolls back
into its own orbit. Nothing
will help it. Through until dawn
you dream the true story of the boy
who hooked out his eye and ate it,
so by six in the morning
I am steadying the ointment
that will bite like an onion, piping
a line of cream while avoiding the pupil
and in no time it is glued shut
like a bad mussel.
Friends call round
and mean well. They wait
and whisper in the air-lock of the lobby
with patches, eyewash, the truth
Even the cats are on to it;
they bring in starlings, and because their feathers
are the colours of oil on water in sunlight
they are a sign of something.
In the long hours
beyond us, irritations heal
into arguments. For the eighteenth time
it comes to this: the length of your leg sliding out
from the covers, the ball of your foot
like a fist on the carpet
I cannot bring myself to hear it.
Words have been spoken; things that were bottled
have burst open and to walk in now
would be to walk in
on the ocean.