Monday, 3 June 2013

Less than a Hero— ‘Kid’ by Simon Armitage

by Ben Schofield

Adam West as Batman
(wikicommons)
I’ve always been a fan of Batman. Perhaps always is the wrong word, everything has a beginning, even if it’s arbitrary or gradual. With Batman I blame Adam West; my favourite incarnation of the caped crusader perhaps owes the title to the brilliant scriptwriters of the Sixties who were either wholly ironic, or just didn’t care much for reality (after all who really keeps the control to the experimental bat-catapult on the same belt as the bat-anti-shark-explodey spray?).

Armitage’s poem catches upon the tail-end of the Batman mythology; at the time ‘Kid’ was written, the Batman franchise was in the middle of a well-needed reboot. During the ‘70s and ‘80s, interest, and more importantly comic sales, had reached an all-time low. Tim Burton’s Batman went a long way to reviving the series, but Simon Armitage picked up on the sadder, more human element of the myth that must have hung over his own childhood. Narrated from the perspective of Robin, this poem paints a picture of the sad truth which hangs over every relationship, be it romantic or a lycra-clad fest of homoeroticism: it must one day end.

It is what comes after that end, the gradual fade from glory, that Armitage picks up on here in such a constructed and elegant way. The first thing that strikes me is the incredible order to the poem. There’s a homogeneity to the lines; each contains the same five predominately trochaic feet (two syllables dum-da, e.g. Bat-man), each with the final “-er” sound rhyme or half rhyme. What makes is impressive is that Armitage manages this without a word seeming out of place, there is no filler like the “Oh!”s of Wordsworth pushing toward the pentameter. Every single line is grounded, it is simple and unadorned.

Because of this simplicity, the reduction of Batman from The Dark Knight to pensioner stewing chicken giblets is emphasised. After all, what is Batman but over-complicated and contrived, his method of crime solving inefficient, born of a large ego?The billions Bruce Wayne spends in creating the Batman would obviously be far better invested in preventative youth programs. While it is the ridiculousness of the legend that first attracted me, and doubtless what is so alluring to many, by deconstructing Batman, Armitage humanises him in a way that we can find both moving and troubling.

Kid

Batman, big shot, when you gave the order
to grow up, then let me loose to wander
leeward, freely through the wild blue yonder
as you liked to say, or ditched me, rather,
in the gutter… well, I turned the corner.
Now I’ve scotched that ‘he was like a father
to me’ rumour, sacked it, blown the cover
on that ‘he was like an elder brother’
story, let the cat out on that caper
with the married woman, how you took her
downtown on expenses in the motor.
Holy robin-redbreast-nest-egg-shocker!
Holy roll-me-over-in-the-clover,
I’m not playing ball boy any longer
Batman, now I’ve doffed that off-the-shoulder
Sherwood-Forest-green and scarlet number
for a pair of jeans and crew-neck jumper;
now I’m taller, harder, stronger, older.
Batman, it makes a marvellous picture:
you without a shadow, stewing over
chicken giblets in the pressure cooker,
next to nothing in the walk in larder,
punching the palm of your hand all winter,
you baby, now I’m the real boy wonder.


           

1 comment:

  1. I was attracted to this article primarily by the picture of Adam West as Batman, being a huge fan of the character myself, and then ended up having read what is now one of my favourite articles on the blog.
    Thanks Ben.

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