Armitage loves creating imagery in his poetry. How effective do you think this is? Choose two or three poems in which you feel imagery helps you understand the poem.
The two poems I have chosen as an example of his work, are, I feel two of the best examples of Armitage’s imagery. They are both very different; one deals with hope while the other, the loss of hope; one is progressive while the other is regressive. Yet they have one thing in common, they both use very powerful imagery.
Armitage uses a very effective piece of imagery when telling us about the pigeon spreading its’ tail feathers towards him. This is like a magician showing their cards to an audience and inviting them to choose a card. This shows a conflict between fantasy and reality because although the pigeon is real, the idea of it offering a card is fantasy.
This links clearly with the idea of the poem because the fact that the poet can see again has made everything that he does see more wonderful and more amazing that it really is; a fantasy world. This adds to our understanding of the poem and the effect of new sight to the poet.
“A pigeon in the yard turns tail
and offers me a card. Any card.”
Another very good example of Armitage’s imagery is shown in the first two lines of the poem. He is saying that the sun is like a persons head as they pull a turtleneck jumper over it; an unusual simile. This could also paint the picture of the sun rising, creating the new dawn, symbolising his new sight. The imagery is of him moving from darkness into light, almost as if he is being re-born. The turtleneck could also represent a struggle between his fear of staying in the dark and his fear of having to have an operation to renew his sight.
“The sun comes like a head
through last nights turtleneck.”
The imagery of the clothing also helps us to understand the poem.
“From pillar to post; a pantomime
of damp forgotten washing”
The washing he sees now is particularly brightly coloured as most pantomime costumes are. The joy of new sight brings things to life the clothes on the washing line, which had been “damp, forgotten washing”. The reality of the washing is dull but he is creating a fantasy which is what a pantomime really is. There are many examples of fantasy and reality alongside each other in this poem.
In the next line the clothing really comes to life. Armitage describes a towel flapping in the wind, but really brings it beyond that by adding in two words, and suddenly the towel is being flapped at a bull by a matador in joyful defiance of danger and the once boring towel becomes the focal point in a huge scene of excitement and risk. By just adding two words Armitage has created amazing imagery in just one line, which helps us to understand the poem because we can imagine the arena and the hype of the matador. In this Armitage is saying that the operation on his eyes was frightening or dangerous, but it was worth it. This links in with the matador because when he is facing the bull it is frightening and dangerous, but the joy and exhilaration afterwards is amazing and worth it. This is a very effective piece of the poem.
“the ole of a crimson towel”
Again Armitage uses clothes to help us understand the poem effectively, when describing a shirt hung out to dry. He attaches the phrase “monkey business” to the shirt and immediately the shirt is alive and becomes something fun and carefree. He enhances that image even more by saying that the shirt is, “pegged only by its sleeve”, this helps, as monkeys are often seen to hang by one arm. Armitage is again creating a scene of merriment as though his newfound sight makes every thing wonderful and larger than life.
“the monkey business of a shirt
pegged only by one sleeve”
Another example of Armitage turning clothing into something more is…
of a handkerchief.”
Handkerchiefs are used to wave at someone when they are leaving; cheerio is a happy way to say goodbye. In these lines the character is waving goodbye to blindness. Another use for the handkerchief is it is something you use when you cry. Armitage is saying that although the subject is happy to regain his sight, it is perhaps quite an emotional time for him as he is getting used to the wonders of everything around him. So the handkerchief is used to wave goodbye but also to dry tears. This is an effective piece of imagery as it brings it home to us, that it must be as difficult to regain lost sight as it is wonderful. By introducing this different way of looking at regaining sight, Armitage helps us understand more what it must be like to be able to see again after perhaps many years.
The last five lines,
“But not before a company
of half a dozen hens
struts through the gate,
looks round the courtyard
for a contact lens.
A courtyard is a space enclosed by walls or buildings. In these lines the poet is saying that blindness was like a courtyard. That he was enclosed in his blindness, but now the gate is open he can see. Also the way the hens ‘struts
through the gate’ signifies that the subject struts, as people who strut are proud or pleased with something. He is pleased to be free of his blindness so he struts out of his prison proudly. The image of the hens ‘looks round the courtyard for a contact lens’ means that although the poet has his sight back, it is perhaps still not perfect and that he has to wear contact lenses, and that is why the hens are looking in the courtyard and not outside the gate, because he still needs help with his sight.
In this part of the poem, there is assonance of the letter ‘s’ which is used to create vivid imagery of the sound of the hens scratching. The words which give us the ‘s, s, s, s’ of the scratching are, hens, struts, looks and lens. The word ‘dozen’ could also be including in this as the ‘z’ causes a scratchy sound as well.
‘About His Person’ is a poem detailing things found on a person or a body. It is written like a list to make it sound as if you are the detective. This involves you in the poem because you are exploring every avenue to find out what the poem means and what type of person the main character was. The poem is about how we interpret information; much like poetry itself. The imagery, unlike ‘Cataract Operation’, is not fantastical but is still extremely effective and makes you imagine clearly the picture Armitage is creating. In the poem Armitage uses a variety of themes, which interlock and build up a picture of a person rather like a jigsaw puzzle.
One of the major themes in the poem is that of death, violence and finality. Armitage uses many references to death and violence. Examples of these are the ‘diary slashed with a pencil’, ‘the spray carnation beheaded’, ‘a giveaway photograph stashed in his wallet’ and the carnation ‘in his fist’. The images he uses are ugly and harsh and this is shown in his choice of words. Examples of finality are also very effective: a library card ‘on its date of expiry’, ‘the watch, self-winding, stopped’, ‘the final demand’ and the last three words, ‘that was everything’.
Armitage’s imagery helps us to understand the poem. We are led to believe by the language he has chosen to use that the person is dead and that he is describing the items found on a dead body, not a person’s belongings. This is effective because it gives you a stark image of the person. We have no descriptions of him but we still receive an image of him through the items found on his body.
Another important theme is that of love and change. This is represented by the idea of a ‘keepsake banked in the heart of a locket’, which represents the lost or removed wedding ring leaving ‘a ring of white unweathered skin’. That leads us to believe that he has lost his wife. A keepsake is something you keep as a memory of someone. The ‘locket in the heart’ represents safety and he has kept this particular keepsake in his heart. A locket is connected with someone you love. The ‘unweathered skin’ shows that his love is now missing but hasn’t been for long, because ‘unweathered skin’ makes us think of the ring of white skin a ring leaves on a finger that has been worn for a long time. As wedding rings are seldom taken of, and are a sign of love, it seems that the ‘a ring of white unweathered skin’ is representing a lost love, that has not been gone for long as the ‘unweathered skin’ would have started to become ‘weathered’.
There is also a random ideas theme. By this I am referring to the way the poet adds in pieces of information, that when looked at carefully do not really have any meaning or relevance apart from that they help us build up a picture of the man and his recent life.
“Five pounds fifty in change, exactly,”
It is the “exactly” on the end that gives us the impression that this line is important. Although this line is important, as are the other random lines, it is not because there is meaning behind the lines, it is because there is none. These are the lines which make us really think on the character and what this poem is about, in this we become detective.
Which leads me on to the final theme, the interactive poem. In this poem it seems as if it is written in a list, perhaps a detective or a policeman’s list. This poem is interactive. You are the detective and this list is all you have to piece this mans life together. Armitage uses imagery in the random ideas effectively to make quite a normal everyday thing seem, important and this draws us in. It becomes like a puzzle, it is a puzzle to work out the incongruities, to build up the picture and work out his life. As we play detective, it helps us understand the poem more than if we read it like a list. We do not read it like a list because of the poet’s effective imagery.
About his person, although very different from, “Cataract Operation”, is still extremely effective. Both poems draw you in but in different ways. Armitage displays his skill in the poems as a creator of imagery that helps you really relate to the people in the poem and the subject matter. Armitage changes everyday things into something fantastical. On the surface everything is normal, but at a deeper level we realise that what the poet writes is not necessarily what the poem is dealing with.
“But not before a company
of half a dozen hens
struts through the gate,
looks round the courtyard
for a contact lens.”