Simon Armitage wrote his poetry collection “Book of Matches” with the idea that each sonnet should be read quickly, in the time it takes for a match to burn out, about 20 seconds. I love this idea, too many people labour the reading of poetry. They put on the “poetry reading voice” which has a plummy accent and a low, monotonous droning drawl that makes everything sound bloody boring.
Poetry should leap from the page and dance across your lips and tongue. It should be read in a real voice, a natural voice, your own accent. The pace may be slow, if that is what is called for, but it can also be machine gun fast.
As an added bonus the title of this poem becomes its own joke when you add in the author. In truth I am not very bothered by Simon Armitage, I like the guy. I like him enough to wish him a happy birthday today.
Back to those matches then. I am reminded of Sylvia Plath staring into candle flames. I am reminded of the little match girl and the visions she sees by the light of each match. I am reminded of Enda St. Vincent Millay and her double ended candle. It reminds me of all those poets who have elucubrated deep into the night to craft their work under flickering flames. It reminds me of T.H. White and his “Once and Future King” who is a candle against the wind, a bastion against the darkness and embodies the hopes and dreams of a better world. Matches are evocative.
I am very bothered; by Simon Armitage
I am very bothered when I think
of the bad things I have done in my life.
Not least that time in the chemistry lab
when I held a pair of scissors by the blades
and played the handles
in the naked lilac flame of the Bunsen burner;
then called your name, and handed them over.
O the unrivalled stench of branded skin
as you slipped your thumb and middle finger in,
then couldn’t shake off the two burning rings. Marked,
the doctor said, for eternity.
Don’t believe me, please, if I say
that was just my butterfingered way, at thirteen,
of asking you if you would marry me.