I was tutoring the other day and discussing the poem, by Simon Armitage, when I had a bit of an epiphany, one of those wondrous moments where you see something you have not seen before and you sit there thinking “how on earth can I have missed that?”
It was after watching a short clip where Armitage explains where the ideas came from for writing the poem and he says that he was a ‘follower’ like me, of the Punk movement in the late 1970s. We are of similar age after all. I suddenly remembered the age old use of the ‘aside’ in acting, the point where an actor stands on stage, looks to the left or the right and then says something softly, or sotto vocce [I think] and under the breath, before coming back to the audience with the rest of his/her lines.
I think, after seeing the video, that throughout the poem, Armitage is talking to the children in the back of the car, maybe his young daughter and a friend, who shriek as the punk “slathers” all over their windscreen in an act of defiance and possibly drunken stupor. But, the last two lines are indicative of him then turning his attention inwards on himself and saying them to himself, like the aside, as he says to himself that he should think back to when he was a lad and fond of the music, as I was, and remember those heady days and how we felt we were everything the leaders of our country hated and could not understand.
This man in the poem still dresses and looks the part 25 years on from 1979 [so this sets the date of the poem to 2004] and still holds to the anarchic styles and attitudes, whereas Armitage is now married [presumably] with a daughter and a home and everything that middle class suburbia brings. And it is this that any true Punk would baulk at, would hate in someone like Armitage [and myself]. This, if we take the ending of the poem like this, is Armitage telling himself to remember and to think that he was one of the ‘Punks’ that blended into society and then vanished through the cracks. Like him, I now see those last two lines as extremely evocative and critical towards self.
Try getting this lot into any exam response, if your exam title allows it. Here, below, is the video clip.