I have been studying his poetry in depth to see what is behind the poems, all together I have analysed five poems; the poem without a title which is sometimes called 'I am very bothered'; this is about an incident involving a young boy at school in a science lab, 'Poem' is about the good and the bad events that a man has done to his family, 'It ain't what you do it what it does to you' is about what a person has and has not done, 'Cataract operation' is what a person sees after they have had a cataract operation and 'About his person' is about personal belongings found on a deceased man and how they represent his life.
Many of his poems relate to each other; 'Poem' and 'I am very bothered' are both in sonnet form suggesting they relate to love in one way or another. In 'I am very bothered' love is expressed through a thirteen year old boy in a science lab asking him to marry him in an extraordinary way, the incident is very ambiguous and many images are painted in the readers head with images about love but in an odd way, he uses words such as "rings" and "eternity", these give the idea of love but Armitage uses these words to describe a boy asking someone to marry him by burning their fingers.
This is very odd but Armitage has twisted the sonnet form and the love words in to make the poem a very extraordinary poem. The sonnet form is also used in 'Poem', it is very surprising that the sonnet form is used in this poem as the reader at the end of the poem is left with hatred due to what the character in the poem has done. 'I am very bothered' and 'Poem' are both about treating someone badly but 'I am very bothered' is in first person and is only about one extraordinary incident the character did when he was thirteen but 'Poem' is in third person and is about a lifetime of what an ordinary character did right and wrong.
In this poem love is expressed through the characters family; the reader can tell the character in the poem loved his family as he "praised his wife for every meal she made" and "always tucked his daughter up at night, the man seems like an ordinary family man but at the end of each stanza from the sonnet it informs the reader of what he has done wrong in his life; he "punched her in the face", this makes the reader shocked and surprised of what the character has done in the poem.
This makes the poem seem strange and peculiar. The comparison between the things the character did wrong and right is big but strange; although the character does a lot more good things than bad he is remembered for all the bad things he has done by the reader, this might be because the bad events are at the end of each stanza and the bad events are very shocking and hurtful towards his family.
The poet wants the reader to think that the man is very normal, he reflects the man through the poem; the title is very ordinary and boring just like the man, the use of the word 'and' makes the poem seem ordinary, the use of words with only one syllable makes the poem seem ordinary and the rhythm of the poem is also very plain and boring. Armitage uses iambic pentameter, he uses this in many of his poems like 'It ain't what you do it what it does to you' and 'Poem'.
Iambic pentameter is used in many sonnets; its meaning is ten beats per line. 'It ain't what you do it what it does to you' is a poem about what a man has and hasn't done. To describe these two things he has used two different types of language; colloquial and formal. Armitage has used colloquial language before in 'I am very bothered', in that instance he uses it to describe what a character has done when he was thirteen, a thirteen year old would probably use colloquial language.
But in 'It ain't what you do it what it does to you' he uses colloquial language to describe what the character has not done; "bummed" and "wobbly", this explains to the reader that it is nothing special that he has done. Armitage even uses this language in the title "Ain't". Using formal language to describe what the character has done it gives some feel and thought into the poem "inertia", "toyed" and "padded". It also gives the reader a sense of wonder and awe. The structure of the poem is very plain and simple, just like you would see on a normal poem you would read; it uses four quatrains.
Armitage normally uses the structure of the poem to give his poems some feel and compassion, for example using sonnets in "I am very bothered" and "Poem" but for "It ain't what you do it what it does to you" he uses a straight forward structure, it might be because he wants the reader to think the poem is very ordinary and what the character has done is very ordinary too. Throughout the final stanza of the poem there is some enjambment "tiny cascading sensation/somewhere inside us" as the lines flow from one to another, mirroring the effect of the fluid feeling "cascading sensation" he is trying to describe.
There is also some enjambment in the middle of the poem describing something the character has done, "skimmed flat stones across black moss", the enjambment gave the affect of the stones leaping like they do on black moss. The alliteration of the 's' does this also by using the 's' every two syllables. Alliteration is also used in 'I am very bothered' in this circumstance Armitage uses alliteration to describe a burning sensation by using a 'b' sound "Bunsen burner/branded/burning".
Some of the last stanzas in Armitage poems refer back to the title; in 'It ain't what you do it what it does to you' the last line of the poem is "That feeling I mean", not only is at a line which makes the reader refer back to the title it is also a type of question. It is asking the reader if they know what the character is talking about. Armitage also does this in 'Poem'; "Sometimes he did this, sometimes he did that. " Armitage characteristically refuses to judge the man leaving the reader with a question.
The last line refers back to the title in a poem called 'Cataract operation', the last line is "I drop the blind but not before a company of half dozen hens struts through the gate, looks around the courtyard for a contact lens", in this short passage there is two references becoming back to the cataract; one where the character drops the blind and where the hens look around the courtyard for a contact lens, in this instance an image is painted in the readers head of hens pecking around a garden just like a blind person would be doing when trying to find something. Cataract operation' is about a washing line becoming a "pantomime"; this is very economical as in just one word it illustrates how lively, colourful and entertaining the washing line is. Armitage uses a lot of metaphors to show how lively the washing line is, the metaphors give the reader a clear but strange image of what the washing line is doing; "the cancan of a rara skirt, the monkey business of a shirt. " In this passage alone there are two metaphors inside it; the skirt isn't really doing the cancan but it seems and looks like it is and the shirt is not really doing monkey business it just looks as if it is.
By using metaphors it paints images inside the reader's head of what the washing line looks like, it looks alive! This is the only poem where metaphors make the ordinary extraordinary; it takes a very imaginative mind to think of metaphors. As well as the passage containing metaphors it also contains personification; the cancan is usually done by people. Personification is very rarely used in the poems Armitage writes, the poems I have read that are written by Armitage are all about people anyway so personification is not needed. There is also rhyme in 'Cataract operation'; "hens" and "lens", "skirt" and "shirt".
But the rhymes in the poem are disguised as they are not where you would expect them to be, Armitage may be using this to represent the poem; the poem being strange and unthinkable. The simile at the start of 'Cataract operation' is a visual representation of the sun rising and being born for the next day "The sun comes like a head through last night's turtleneck. ", this is the only simile of the poem, another simile is seen in "About his person", this simile symbolises death "a rolled-up note of explanation planted there like a spray carnation".
These two similes are to do with two very different things even though 'Cataract operation' and 'About his person' are very similar poems; they both have rhyming couplets inside them and are both 20 lines wrong, but they are also very different; 'About his person' is all about death, violence and finality but 'Cataract operation' is about liveliness, entertainment and magic. The two similes represent this. 'About his person' is about personal belongings found on a deceased man and how they represent his life. The language used in the poem is very plain and ordinary, maybe representing the character in the poem.
The poem is basically a list of what has been found, very simple and straight forward unlike 'Cataract operation' where it is very hard to understand what is happening. In 'Poem' a list is also used with the repetition of the word "and", it makes the poem seem ordinary just like 'About his person'. End stopping words are used in the poem; "Stopped" represents the finality of the man but is used in the poem to describe an analogue watch that was found on the man. "That was everything" is also and end stopping phrase at the end of the poem, this cuts off the poem dead just like the character was.
The items found on the man give the reader series of pictures or images that are factual snapshots. The choice of words in this list shows how a poet can play with multiple meanings to great effect. The title itself can be read in two ways, as can the final line. Many of the words have very violent overtones of finality - 'expiry', 'beheaded' - and all of these meanings are consciously worked on by the poet. These words describe objects that are found on the man, this is a bit ironic as the man that the objects are found on is dead.
All the poems I have analysed that are written by Armitage all link together in one way or another. At first impressions Armitage makes his poems look extraordinary but when looked in depth the poem is actually ordinary but in a twisted way, e. g. in 'Poem' the reader thinks that the character is a very nasty man by doing very horrible things to his family. Armitage does this by putting the nasty events the character does at the end of each line, the reader then remembers the character by what he has done wrong.
But when the poem is looked into, the amount of good things the man did nicely actually overrules the things he did nastily. The character now looks like an ordinary man but as the nasty events are out of the blue it makes the reader think that the character is very malevolent. Armitage uses metaphors, similes, personification and imagery to make the poems he writes extraordinary. Imagery is the key thing in poetry, if the reader can not imagine the poem coming to life then the poem is useless, Armitage uses imagery to paint images inside reader's head that makes the poem seem strange and odd.
Armitage's poetry makes the reader think twice of what is put in the poems. Colloquial and formal language is also used to describe what a character has done in a poem, if Armitage wants the reader to think that something is boring he uses colloquial language and if he wants the reader to think that something is amazing and exciting then he uses formal language. Armitage makes the reader think what he wants them to think and from this he controls the readers mind to think of something that is very extraordinary.