Mother, any distance…
• Explore the meaning of Armitage’s
poem ‘Mother, any distance…’ and how
the meaning is conveyed
Why are we reading Simon Armitage?
There are two questions on your Literature exam…
There’ll be one on ‘Of Mice and Men’
and another on poetry… the poetry question will ask you to compare
poems by Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage and some older poems
(which we’ll look at next)
This one exam, added to your Educating Rita and Macbeth
assignments makes up the whole of your English Literature
GCSE (so we’re very, very nearly there!)
Before You Were Mine
I’m ten years away from the corner you laugh on
with your pals, Maggie MeGeeney and Jean Duff.
The three of you bend from the waist, holding
each other, or your knees, and shriek at the pavement.
Your polka-dot dress blows round your legs. Marliyn.
I’m not here yet. The thought of me doesn’t occur
in the ballroom with the thousand eyes, the fizzy, movie tomorrows
the right walk home could bring. I knew you would dance
like that. Before you were mine, your Ma stands at the close
with a hiding for the late one. You reckon it’s worth it.
The decade ahead of my loud, possessive yell with the best one, eh?
I remember my hands in those high-heeled red shoes, relics,
and now your ghost clatters toward me over George Square
till I see you, clear as scent, under the tree,
with its lights, and whose small bites on your neck, sweetheart?
Cha, cha, cha! You’d teach me the steps on the way home from Mass,
Stamping stars from the wrong pavement. Even then
I wanted the bold girl winking in Portobello, somewhere
In Scotland, before I was born. That glamorous love lasts
Where you sparkle and waltz and laugh before you were mine.
Education for Leisure
Today I am going to kill something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God. It is an ordinary day,
a sort of grey with boredom stirring in the streets.
I squash a fly against the window with my thumb.
We did that at school. Shakespeare. It was in
Another language and now the fly is in another language.
I breathe out talent on the glass to write my name.
I am a genius. I could be anything at all, with half
the chance. But today I am going to change the world.
Something’s world. The cat avoids me. The cat
Knows I am a genius, and has hidden itself.
I pour the goldfish down the bog. I pull the chain.
I see that it is good. The budgie is panicking.
Once a fortnight, I walk the two miles into town
for signing on. They don’t appreciate my autograph.
There is nothing left to kill. I dial the radio
and tell the man he’s talking to a superstar.
He cuts me off. I get our bread knife and go out.
The pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm
Beloved sweetheart bastard. Not a day since then
I haven’t wished him dead. Prayed for it
so hard I’ve dark green pebbles for eyes,
ropes on the backs of my hands I could strangle with.
Spinster. I stink and remember. Whole days
in bed cawing Nooooo at the wall; the dress
yellowing, trembling if I open the wardrobe;
the slewed mirror, full-length, her, myself, who did this
to me? Puce curses that are sounds not words.
Some nights better, the lost body over me,
my fluent tongue in its mouth in its ear
then down till I suddenly bite awake. Love’s
hate behind a white veil; a red balloon bursting
in my face. Bang. I stabbed at a wedding cake.
Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon.
Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.
I’d done it before
(and doubtless I’ll do it again,
sooner or later)
woke up with a head on the pillow beside me- whose?-
what did it matter?
Good looking, of course, dark hair, rather matted;
the reddish beard several shades lighter;
with very deep lines around the eyes,
from pain, I’d guess, maybe laughter;
and a beautiful crimson mouth that obviously knew
how to flatter…
which I kissed…
colder than pewter.
Strange. What was his name? Peter?
Simon? Andrew? John? I knew I’d feel better
for tea, dry toast, no butter,
so rang for the maid.
and, indeed, her innocent clatter
of sups and plates,
her clearing of clutter,
her regional patter,
were just what needed-
hungover and wrecked as I was from a night on the batter.
I needed to clean up my act,
cut out the booze and the fags and the sex.
Yes. And as for th elatter,
it was time to turf out the latter,
it was time to turf out the blighter,
the beater or biter,
who’d come like a lamb to the slaughter
to Salome’s bed.
In the mirror, I saw my eyes glitter,
I flung back the sticky red sheets,
and there, like I said- and ain’t like a bitch-
was his head on a platter.
The most unusual thing I ever stole? A snowman.
Midnight. He looked magnificent; a tall, white mute
beneath the winter moon. I wanted him, a mate
with a mind as cold as the slice of ice
within my own brain. I started with the head.
Better off dead than giving in, not taking
what you want. He weighed a ton; his torso,
frozen stiff, hugged to my chest, a fierce chill
piercing my gut. Part of the trill was knowing
that children would cry in the morning. Life’s tough.
Sometimes I steal things I don’t need. I joy-ride cars
to nowhere, break into houses just to have a look.
I’m a mucky ghost, leave a mess, maybe pinch a camera.
I watch my gloved hand twisting the doorknob.
A stranger’s bedroom. Mirrors. I sigh like this- Aah.
It took some time. Reassembled in the yard,
he didn’t look the same. I took a run
and booted him. Again. Again. My breath ripped out
in rags. It seems daft now. Then I was standing
alone amongst lumps of snow, sick of the world.
Boredom. Mostly I’m so bored I could eat myself.
One time, I stole a guitar and thought I might
learn to play. I nicked a bust of Shakespeare once,
flogged it, but the snowman was the strangest.
You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?
This poem is taken from a collection called ‘Book of
Matches’, the idea being that each poem in it can be
read in the time that it takes a match to burn down…
Mother, any distance greater than a single span
requires a second pair of hands.
You come to help me measure windows, pelmets, doors,
the acres of the walls, the prairies of the floors.
You at the zero-end, me with the spool of tape, recording
length, reporting metres, centimetres back to base, then leaving
up the stairs, the line still feeding out, unreeling
years between us. Anchor. Kite.
I space-walk through the empty bedrooms, climb
the ladder to the loft, to breaking point, where something
has to give;
two floors below your fingertips still pinch
the last one hundredth of an inch… I reach
towards a hatch that o-pens on an endless sky
to fall or fly.
RAPID REACTIONS…. Use your sheet to record your
initial impressions of the poem
TRUST YOUR JUDGEMENT… NOTE DOWN YOUR INITIAL
RESPONSES TO THE POEM!
(What’s the poem about?)
Voice or voices
Attitudes and emotions
Form and structure
(What type of poem is it? How is the poem put together?)
(Does it use alliteration? Is there any interesting imagery?
What about rhythm and rhyme?)
What does it mean?
Metaphorically, the poem explores the connection between mother and child-
the tape becomes a metaphor for this relationship. Now the mother has helped
her child as much as she can and now the child is ready to let go, but he’s
unsure of whether he can manage on his own.
The tape between them is a metaphor for something- what is it a metaphor for?
What might the ‘reeling out’ of the tape represent?
The poet uses the images of a kite and an anchor- what do these images
What does the use of ‘kite’ suggest about their relationship?
How do you think the narrator feels about gaining his independence?
What do you think the mother in the poem is like? Is she a good mum?
(don’t forget to support your comments with evidence!)
How do you think the narrator feels about his mum?