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Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey by Simon Armitage

Source: Liveright, W.W. Norton
Paperback, 285 pages
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Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey by Simon Armitage is part memoir and part travelogue, and the path he chooses to walk — while contrary to what is outlined in the guidebooks for the Pennine Way in England and part of Scotland — is literally a walk home for him.  He begins in Kirk Yethom, Scotland, and ends more or less in Edale, England, which is in the Peak District.  As a poet, readers may expect a deeper analysis of the journey or the travails he experiences, but as Armitage is nearly constantly accompanied by strangers, friends, fellow poets, and even his family, he has little time to contemplate more than the scant passerby or the physical obstacles in his path.  Much of the travelogue is focused on Armitage re-orienting himself by map or landscape or simply following someone who has offered to guide him over a particular leg of the 267 miles.  The first poem included in the book doesn’t come until he has pass nearly a third of the way through the trail — whether that is when inspiration hit him to write a poem during the journey or whether it was written afterward about that section of the trail is unclear.

“Prose fills a space, like a liquid poured in from the top, but poetry occupies it, arrays itself in formation, sets up camp and refuses to budge.  It is a dissenting and willful art form, and most of its practitioners are signed-up members of the awkward squad.” (page 5)

Armitage has help in coordinating his journey, which includes readings held at the end of each leg either in an inn, a home, a bar, or other venues, and he passes a sock about the room for collections, which he uses to fund his continued journey along the way.  He says that he sets out on the journey to get “out there,” rather than write about far-off places from his desk chair.  In a way, he sees it as a way to “clear his head.”  The path does not seem to clear his head so much as clutter it with more concerns and worries about himself and the physical health of others.

There is a point early on in which he gains a “regular” pace of walking and he feels as though he’s reached his stride, but he’s clearly not reached the most arduous parts of the journey.  Those parts of the journey clearly weigh on his psyche, as does his part of the journey when he is lost in the mist.  He nearly loses his sense of identity, but he continues onward.  Perhaps this is the crux of the prose, that poets lose themselves in the journey and that loss of self can be frightening unless the poet can plod forward.

Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey by Simon Armitage is a journey at the arm of a poet who does not find himself all that interesting and cannot seem to understand the reason why anyone would volunteer to go on the journey with him or even come to listen to him read his poems.  The one interesting moment in the memoir where he talks of spare rooms as the keepers of “family lore” and “memory vaults,” is grossly under-explored, as he seems to want to keep out of the private moments of the people who open their homes to him.  While the landscape is varied and the hardships he faces could be a cautionary tale against these kinds of treks, the journey does not live up to reader’s expectations about what a poet would write about, experience, or explore.

About the Poet:

Simon Armitage was born in 1963 in the village of Marsden and lives in West Yorkshire. He is a graduate of Portsmouth University, where he studied Geography. As a post-graduate student at Manchester University his MA thesis concerned the effects of television violence on young offenders. Until 1994 he worked as Probation Officer in Greater Manchester.

His first full-length collection of poems, Zoom!, was published in 1989 by Bloodaxe Books. Further collections are Xanadu (1992, Bloodaxe Books), Kid (1992, Faber & Faber), Book of Matches (1993, Faber & Faber), The Dead Sea Poems (1995, Faber & Faber), Moon Country (with Glyn Maxwell, 1996, Faber & Faber), CloudCuckooLand (1997 Faber and Faber), Killing Time (1999 Faber & Faber), Selected Poems (2001, Faber & Faber), Travelling Songs (2002, Faber & Faber), The Universal Home Doctor (2002, Faber & Faber), Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid (2006, Faber & Faber, Knopf 2008), and Seeing Stars (2010, Faber & Faber, Knopf 2011).

Armitage’s 2012 nonfiction book Walking Home, an account of his troubadour journey along the Pennine Way, was a Sunday Times best-seller for over a month and is shortlisted for the 2012 Portico Prize.

Book 12 for the Dive Into Poetry Reading Challenge 2014.

 

 

6th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; this memoir/travelogue takes place in England and Scotland.

 

 

18th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

 

 

 

 

For today’s 2014 National Poetry Month: Reach for the Horizon tour stop, click the image below:

Mailbox Monday #263

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has gone through a few incarnations from a permanent home with Marcia to a tour of other blogs.

Now, it has its own permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  The Late Parade by Adam Fitzgerald for review W.W. Norton’s Liveright Publishing.

Adam Fitzgerald “is a born poet whose extraordinary gift for phrasing, music, and verbal invention distinguish him from any young poet I know writing today,” writes Mark Strand about the twenty-nine-year-old American newcomer who follows “in the line of Arthur Rimbaud, Wallace Stevens, and John Ashbery” (Maureen McLane). Fitzgerald, whose title poem “carries the primal vision of Hart Crane into a future that does not surrender the young poet’s love of the real” (Harold Bloom), has already published in the Boston Review, A Public Space, Conjunctions, and the Brooklyn Rail and has become a poetic lightning rod in the East Village and other avant-garde settings. Here, in The Late Parade, he presents 48 poems that “fire dance around meaning itself” (Boston Review) yet help to redefine the modernist vision for the twenty-first-century with near-demonic displays of sonorous density and manic verbal fertility. This dazzling debut collection will be sure to “cause a commotion.”

2.  Nefertiti in the Flak Tower by Clive James for review from W.W. Norton’s Liveright Publishing.

Clive James’ power as a poet has increased year by year, and there has been no stronger evidence for this than Nefertiti in the Flak Tower. Here, his polymathic learning and technical virtuosity are worn more lightly than ever; the effect is merely to produce a deep sense of trust into which the reader gratefully sinks, knowing they are in the presence of a master. The most obvious token of that mastery is the book’s breathtaking range of theme: there are moving elegies, a meditation on the later Yeats, a Hollywood Iliad, odes to rare orchids, wartime typewriters and sharks – as well as a poem on the fate of Queen Nefertiti in Nazi Germany. But despite the dizzying variety, James’ poetic intention becomes increasingly clear: what marks this new collection out is his intensified concentration on the individual poem as self-contained universe. Poetry is a practice he compares (in ‘Numismatics’) to striking new coin; and Nefertiti in the Flak Tower is a treasure-chest of one-off marvels, with each poem a twin-sided, perfect human balance of the unashamedly joyous and the deadly serious, ‘whose play of light pays tribute to the dark’.

3.  Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey by Simon Armitage from W.W. Norton’s Liveright Publishing.

The wandering poet has always been a feature of our cultural imagination. Odysseus journeys home, his famous flair for storytelling seducing friend and foe. The Romantic poets tramped all over the Lake District searching for inspiration. Now Simon Armitage, with equal parts enthusiasm and trepidation, as well as a wry humor all his own, has taken on Britain’s version of our Appalachian Trail: the Pennine Way. Walking “the backbone of England” by day (accompanied by friends, family, strangers, dogs, the unpredictable English weather, and a backpack full of Mars Bars), each evening he gives a poetry reading in a different village in exchange for a bed. Armitage reflects on the inextricable link between freedom and fear as well as the poet’s place in our bustling world. In Armitage’s own words, “to embark on the walk is to surrender to its lore and submit to its logic, and to take up a challenge against the self.”

4.  Pansy in Paris: A Mystery at the Museum by Cynthia Bardes, illustrated by Virginia Best for review and Wiggles.

Pansy, the poodle who lives at the Palace Hotel in Beverly Hills and Avery, the little girl who adopted her, are off on a new adventure in Pansy in Paris. The two travel to the City of Lights to solve a new mystery: who is stealing paintings from the museum? With only one clue and their boundless curiosity, the two follow the trail, foil the thieves, and recover the missing artwork having great fun as they explore a beautiful new city and enjoy its treasures. Pansy and Avery learn about the joy of travel, the satisfaction of a job well done, and the special pleasure of teamwork.”

5.  The Nose Book by Al Perkins, illustrated by Joe Mathieu for Wiggles from her auntie Kelly for her birthday.

In this Bright and Early Book, Perkins offers a super-simple look at noses of all kinds, colors, and shapes, including their multiple uses and maddening maladies!

6.  Images of War: War in the Balkans: The Battle for Greece and Crete 1940-1941 by Jeffrey Plowman for review from the publisher.

Jeffrey Plowman s photographic history traces the course of the entire Balkan campaign from the first moves of the Italians through Albania and the invasion of Jugoslavia and Bulgaria by German forces through to the battle for Greece and the final airborne assault on Crete. He gives equal weight to every stage of the campaign he doesn t just combine the first stages and treat them as an introduction to the battle for Crete and he covers all the forces involved the Germans, the Greeks, and the Commonwealth troops. By shifting the focus to the mainland, he views the campaign as a whole, and he offers a balanced portrayal of a conflict that is often overlooked in histories of this phase of the Second World War. Most of the graphic photographs he has selected have never been published before, and many come from private sources.

What did you receive?