Friday, February 05, 2010

All We Can Do

In my two recent posts on Simon Armitage poems ("Snow Joke" and "On Miles Platting Station"), I discussed how the poems raised the issue of what evidence is. The next poem in Armitage's Zoom! is called "All We Can Do," and it brings up a related issue: reading and misreading. After all, in order to determine which things are evidence, you have to read them correctly, and the danger of misreading always looms. Here's the beginning of the poem:

The engine has less bite 
than a baby's cough
so you nurse it into
the all-night forecourt.
David will come,
the cordage 
of his half converted skip truck
clanging from streets away,
his bush-baby eyes
picking us out
in the battered kiosk.

This David who comes to take care of the speaker's car trouble has to perform an act of reading to find "us," "picking us out" in the dark. But not only does he have to read the scene, he also has to read the car, as it were, to determine the source of the problem:

He cleans the dip-stick
under his armpit
and tells us the car
has more faults
than he could shake a stick at.

As David tows the car away, a misreading is explicitly mentioned:

I steer and brake 
in the car behind,
misreading the tangents
of the pavements and corners
as the gold 
of each streetlight
through your hairstyle.

The poem ends up identifying David as someone who reads things correctly and the speaker as someone who misreads things; the larger issue is how reading and misreading function in the determination of what is evidence and what is not. Or in the case of the speaker, not what is evidence, but where he should steer the broken-down car, and he gets the geometry of it wrong.

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