Saturday, 14 April 2012

Extract from 'Out of the Blue'

This poem comes, as its title suggests, from the much longer poem 'Out of the Blue' which Simon Armitage wrote to commemmorate the fall of the twin Towers in 9/11. You may find the whole poem on youtube, and it is well worth watching it all so as to see the overall cotext--and because it is a beautiful piece. In this interview with the BBC he explains that the section that has been selected fior the anthology (from section 3) comes from a particular piece of video footage that he watched, and that some of the effects in the poem are directly related to this experience of watching the oringinal events unfold.

If you would like to look at the section with the film attached, see the above video, where the section is read by Rufus Sewell, using as a backdrop the piece of camerawork that Armitage describes in his interview. BEWARE--YOU MAY FIND THIS REAL-LIFE FOOTAGE DISTURBING. Looking at the footage, though you may find it distressing, does make some of the imagery clear. For instance, the image of the 'gills' of the building becomes much more easy to understand.

Some things that you might like to note about the poem... It is a monologue in four-line stanzas, in the voice of one of the victims of the attack on the World Trade Centre in September 2001 known as 9/11. Armitage has imagined himself into the place of one of the people involved, a man who finds himself trapped on the top floors of the burning building, aware of his position, but unable to escape. This situation was one of the ones which most horrified people who watched footage of the attacks--people could be seen waving from windows, looking for help, and yet there was no way to reach them before the towers collapsed. The spesker directly addresses us as readers throughout, actually making us feel alightly voyueristic in watching this film, and selecting this person to watch: 'you have picked me out / Through a distant shot of a building burning'. In this respect it is interesting in that it deals with a non-combatant, and a victim of conflict, though not a victim of a war, but of a terrorist attack. The speaker's horror and disbelief are powerfully conveyed in the poem, and the extract ends with the dark suggestion that his ability to keep speaking is disappearing 'I am failing, flagging'.

Dante's Inferno

The poem is simply rhymed with half-rhymes and quite loose rhymes focused on the participles which are used throughout the poem to gve a sense of continuous action: 'burning...turning...watching...trying'. Half-rhymes used as internal rhymes rather than as end-rhymes also reinforce the sound of the poem: 'twirling, turning', 'wailing...failing['. This continuous use of participles creates the effect of events going on as we read, with no completed actions, which emphasises a sense of entrapment. the speaker cannot escape from his state of fear, as though he is trapped in a continuous torment, like a Dantean ghost from the Inferno,. It is striking how Armitage has sometimes reversed word-order to continue this effect--for instance 'a burning building' would be a more natural syntactical construction in English, but we here have 'a building burning' which lays stress upon the continuous action of 'burning' rather than on the building. A useful exercise is to go throught he poem and just see how many -ing' words you can actually find, and how they change in the course of the poem. The shift from the quite upbeat 'twirling, turning' with their short vowel-sounds to the long 'failing, flagging' at the end seems to mimic the growing exhaustion of the speaker. The rhymes also seem to grow more evident as the poem progresses, with the failrly sharp monosyllabic half-rhymes 'out/now', 'come/crumbs' replaced with the repetitive participles until the final stanza has three rhymes: 'tiring/firing', 'wailing/failing', 'sagging/flagging'.

Repetition is very important to the poem, and again enhances the entrapment of the speaker. Sometimes the repetition actually enacts the meaning, for instance 'waving, waving', where the repeated word suggests the repeated waving motion, or 'watching watching', 'trying and trying' which achieve similar effects, suggesting that the action is literally repeated. At other times repetition emphasises helplessness, so 'appalling. Appalling' emphasises (especially with the sentence-break) the speaker's horrified stasis in comparison to the terrible 'wind-milling, wheeling, spiralling, falling' with which it is contrasted.

The short lines of the poem seem to emphasise the breathlessness of the speaker, referred to in line 24, with a sense that it is delivered in a series of short bursts of breath. The largely endstopped lines contribute to this effect. In fact the lines are not always endstopped where they appear to be, but then continue on, enjambement moving on the meaning where it would hvae been possible to stop. For instance, in line 7, 'does anyone see' is a complete thought related to the previous line, so the added 'a soul worth saving' seems almost like an afterthought, suggesting that the speaker is finding it difficult to speak fluently and implying his growing discomfort as the 'bullying' flames grow nearer.

Punctuation in this poem is worth noting (though don't copy it for paper 1!) as unusually, Armitage somewhat over-uses commas, which again suggests a breathy speaker. This is partly because he does not use many conjunctions. Instead, for instamce, of saying 'bullying and driving' (l 14) ''leaving or diving' (l.16) he simply uses a comma to separate the two words, meaning that the pause suggests a taking of breath. This effect is called asyndeton (literally meaning without conjunctions) and you can see it most strikingly in line 20, where the effect of the words immediately following each other is to suggest the continuous motion of the falling people it describes.

The direct address to the reader throughout this poem, with the use of 'you', involves us in the poem, and reflects on the effects of conflict upon those not directly involved. The 'my love' referenced in the final line, however, suggests the pain for those watching the twin towers knowing that someone they loved was trapped there, and abruptly distances the reader, as though we have been eavesdropping on a private conversation, and the 'you' has not actually invited us into the poem at all. In this respect, Armitage may also be thinking of the ways in which the normal barriers of privacy were broken down during 9/11 with people pleading to send messages to their loved ones through strangers' phones, or dropping messages in the hope that they would be found.

You might link this poem to 'The right word' which discusses the idea of terrorism (and also has a not dissimilar form) or to 'The Yellow Palm', or 'The Falling Leaves', or 'Poppies' which all deal with the effects of war on those not directly involved in the fighting.

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