Letters to a first love from the future, Andy ArmitageThe jacket is very dark green, with a huge circle just visible behind the green, half wholly green, half diagonally striped. This may be the publisher's half moon. The title is centred in white small caps at the very top over two lines. The author's name is at the foot of the jacket in white largish lower case. The title is placed just above, and just below, the 'moon'.

Half Moon Books, 2018    £6.00

First love, first collection

As Armitage says (in ‘A longitude of longing’) ‘I have crossed the Date Line / into yesterday / to reach the country of my youth.’ Given that these poems are letters from the future, I wonder how reliable the narrator is. How much of the hindsight is 20/20?

Even at the distance we are talking about, there are some incredibly specific and pinpointed memories. And it’s the combination of distance and close detail that brings this pamphlet to life. They stop it becoming teenage poetry about teenage love.

I have a particular fondness for the opening lines of ‘Et in Arcadia ego’. It offers a somewhat Proustian rush to the young me (and if poetry can’t do that, then I don’t want to know — the trick is, obviously, that it’s not the only thing it can do). The poem beautifully evokes that time when young lovers have nowhere to go, no place to call theirs, and are discovering each other:

We are in the dark
on the swings in the Rec,
a plastic bag of cans at our feet.

It’s the detail of the ‘plastic bag of cans’ that makes this stand out for me — that combination of the illicit cans and the relative innocence of being at ‘the swings’.

This debut pamphlet traces the arc of a relationship: from young love starting at school, to living together, to eventual erosion and burn-out. It also touches on the life and loves that followed, all the while considering the trajectory of a ‘future that never happened’ (in ‘A longitude for longing’, again).

First collections (like first loves), are amazing things. You’ve generally worked your whole life to get to this point and so you pour your whole self into the mix. And more importantly, they become a benchmark for the future. If this is a book about looking back, I would like to see where Armitage goes in the future.

Mat Riches