Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Snow Joke

Poems can raise questions about how things are perceived, and it is often best when they leave those questions unanswered. Simon Armitage's "Snow Joke," the first poem in his first book, Zoom!, tells a story about a man who dies when his car gets stuck in a blizzard, and concludes by addressing the question of which of the three men who found the car under the snow "was to take the most credit":

Him who took the aerial to be a hawthorn twig?
Him who figured out the contour of his car?

Or him who said he heard the horn, moaning

softly like an alarm clock under an eiderdown?

Beyond the openness of this ending, there is also the issue of the details of these perceptions and misperceptions: the aerial as a hawthorn twig; the mound of snow understood to be the contour of a car; the horn under the snow (something alarming, cold, dangerous) heard as an alarm clock under an eiderdown (something alarming, of course, but warm and unthreatening). The harmless has to be perceived as a site of harm in order for the dead man to be found. Evidence has to be seen as evidence, as sign, rather than as ... well, nothing much at all.

You can read the whole poem on this discussion page, a little ways down (where it is posted without its quatrain form).

[Warning: I have Armitage on the brain right now, as I am preparing a seminar on his work!]


James Owens said...

Thank you for pointing me toward this poem. I was not familiar with it before, and I like it a great deal. It also seems especially apt at the moment, when one is in danger of reenacting this scenario every time one ventures out of the house....

Andrew Shields said...

James, you can hear some excellent Armitage here (I especially like "The Shout"):


James Owens said...

Thank you.

Dave King said...

Enthralling. Thanks for that.

martine said...

I just wanted to say I am reading backwards through your posts and enjoying your train of thought. Some of it is right over my head but some very enlightening. And I visited the poetry connection link, that Roger Mitchell poem at the beginning is just gut wrenchingly taut.
thank you

Andrew Shields said...

Martine, I'm not sure myself what I'm getting at yet! :-)