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This review is taken from PN Review 223, Volume 41 Number 5, May - June 2015.

More Sparks simon armitage, Paper Aeroplane: Selected Poems 1989–2014 (Faber) £10.99

Simon Armitage’s near obsession with the body is a blurbwriter’s dream. When Armitage speaks of ‘Tonsils […] hanging / like two bats at the back of a cave’ or leg calves like ‘the under­carriages of Shackletons’, one can almost hear a PR guy scribbling a promo replete with words like ‘visceral’, ‘robust’ and ‘striking’.

Undoubtedly one of the strengths of this timely Armitage retrospective is its grittiness. Armitage has never lost his gift for an arresting image and phrase. From the shock-jock comedy of ‘Phenomenology’ from his debut Zoom! (‘Harold Garfinkel can go fuck himself’) through to his later engagement with classical themes (‘When the eyeball burst we were soaked in ink’ says Armitage’s Odysseus of Cyclops), he has retained an edge of rock’n’roll sneer. And – in an age often obsessed with lyric – it’s rather marvellous.

What’s strangely satisfying about this selection, however, is its relentlessness. Armitage’s exhilarating ability to write the body is primarily an examination of masculinity and the masculine body and – for all the wit and humour – there is an almost grim focus on these often questioned and questionable categories. This is most clearly demonstrated in his meditations on the relationships between military identity and personal and political violence. ‘Not The Furniture Game’ is a troubling examination of the male body and its capacity to inflict violence on women (‘She was a chair, tipped over backwards / with his donkey jacket on her shoulders’). Armitage’s picture of the male body under stress (‘his belly-button was the ...
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