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Paper Aeroplane: Selected Poems 19892014 by Simon Armitage review What surprises is how urgent and contemporary his early poems still read

A timely retrospective for a soaring talent of modern British verse

How did it get so late? wonders Simon Armitage in Paper Aeroplane, his new selected poems. Its a fair question. The recent fanfare of the Next Generation Poets 2014, a promotion touting fresh voices set to dominate British verse, has coincided with Armitage, once poetrys poster boy for the original New Generation Poets 1994, releasing this hefty retrospective. Twenty-five years have passed since he stunned the poetry world with his debut Zoom! (1989), his voice distinctive, his energetic style fully formed. Since then there have been: 10 book-length collections, a host of novels, plays, translations and memoirs, not to mention a clutch of TV and radio programmes. What surprises is how urgent and contemporary those early poems still read.

Heard the one about the guy from Heaton Mersey? hollers Snow Joke, the opener from Zoom!. From the outset, Armitages combination of coined phrases, cliche and zippy vernacular with a sharp adherence to meter, rhyme and form, worked to winsome effect, skimming across the living language with unmatched exuberance. Titles like It Aint What You Do Its What It Does to You fizz next to frank opening lines: Harold Garfinkel can go fuck himself is a gunslingers free assessment of one leading sociologist. Here is a young poet as capable of ventriloquising the confessions of drug dealers in The Stuff as of figuring poetry itself, in the much-imitated Zoom!, as a billiard ball weighing more than Saturn.

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