Magnetic Field: The Marsden Poems
Written by: Simon Armitage
Faber & Faber
Reviewed by: Colin Morris
My bookshelves sag with the weight of Neruda, Milligan, McGough, Betjeman, Rexroth, and Larkin but I have never reviewed a poetry book. Until now.
Not for me the dry analytic dissection of enjambment, onomatopoeia, or iambic pentameter, whatever they may be.
Poetry is probably the most private of reading. I came across Armitage not via his poetry but via his wildly crafted, dry-humoured book All Points North about his time in Manchester with social services. Armitage was born in Yorkshire, but I forgive him for that.
Now, Poet Laureate Armitage has published another book of country poems that evoke farmyards, birds on the wire, sleet on the face when crossing Mam Tor (Mother Hill in Derbyshire), and the smell of hollyhocks on the wind. They are so resplendent with imagery that I recall weekend rambles in Derbyshire as a 14-year-old with such clarity and dislike being woken from my reverie. I learned the names of the birds on the wing – starlings, robins, blue tits, and magpies, and now, so far from the motherland, I retreat into Armitage’s images so the memories will never fade.
Evening is one example. “One day you’ll learn the names of the trees. You fork left under the ridge, pick up the bridleway between two streams. Here is Wool Clough. Here is Royal Edge”.
And, in October, “All day trimming branches and leaves, the homeowner sweeping the summer into a green heap; all evening minding the flames, inhaling the incense of smouldering laurel and pine”.
In the chapter titled Bringing it all Back Home, the author’s humour comes to the fore when he discovers that there is a Simon Armitage Trail in his village. Buying a false wig and beard, he joins the guided tour only to find, disappointingly, that it’s only two elderly ladies and three day-trippers. Keen to catch the ferret juggling at midday in Malham Cove, one of the day-trippers asks, “how long does this take?” as they don’t want to miss the bus. Argh! Fame, such a fickle mistress.