“Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic”

Simon’s Armitage’s collection “Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic” is something of a smorgasbord in terms of theme, style, even seriousness. It could easily offer ‘something for everybody’, as the saying goes.

What struck me most of all was a sense that I wasn’t reading poetry as much as reviewing ‘product’. Everything in this collection was commissioned, bought and paid for to meet a specific brief or order. Whether or not there’s anything wrong with that is a matter of personal opinion, but my concern is that it runs the risk of devaluing the poetry – perhaps less in terms of quality, but primarily of ‘authenticity’. I find myself asking if Armitage was creating pieces whose subjects and messages truly interested him, or whether he was compromised by the commercial.

In one of the sequences he speaks of being a ‘troubadour’, using poetry readings as the means to effect travel along the Pennine way: verses shared for food and overnight accommodation. Traditional bartering perhaps.

Few individual poems stood out for me – though “Women Winding Wool” is an absolute gem – and there are glimpses of brilliance, nuggets for which you can pan. I also was taken by the play-like “The Brink”, and the concept behind “In Memory of Water”, poems carved into stone and left in the landscape – a literary “Angel of the North”, perhaps.

Overall – as you may be able to tell – I remain unconvinced. Is this the real Armitage or evidence of the price he has to pay for being a member of the Royal Household?