This poem is one of several that were published in Zoom!, one of Armitage’s best-known. It’s often cited as the “breakthrough” collection that solidified his career and eventually led to his tenure as Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. The collection was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Award in 1989. Many of its poems are as interesting as ‘Zoom!’
‘Zoom!’ by Simon Armitage is a poem that explores the vastness of existence and the potential of words.
In the first lines of ‘Zoom!’ the speaker begins by setting an initial scene. “It” is a house, roads, clearing banks, a football team, and more. Soon, it moves beyond the earth and out into space, becoming the universe, a distant galaxy, and a black hole. Finally, it returns to earth, and the speaker is asked “what it is” and how it can have such a mass but also maintain a compact size. It’s word, the speaker assures these people waiting in line at a store. They “won’t have it” or won’t believe it.
Throughout ‘Zoom!’ the poet engages with themes of creativity and existence. He takes the reader on a journey through the universe, through a black hole, and back to earth again. All this is done with “it” kept in mind. He’s suggesting the limitlessness of creativity and writing, as well as one’s limited ability to understand the vastness of the universe.
Structure and Form
‘Zoom!’ by Simon Armitage is a three-stanza poem that is separated into two stanzas of eleven lines and one seven-line stanza. Armitage chose to write this piece in free verse. This means that the poem does not conform to a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Despite this, there is structure to the poem. The stanzas are made up of one long line followed by one shorter line. This forces the reader to move their eyes back and forth on the page quickly and speeds up the entire pace of the poem. It’s further emphasized by his use of intentions.
Armitage makes use of several literary devices in ‘Zoom!’ These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “stop” and “Soon” in line three of the first stanza and “pushing” and “promotion” in line eleven of the first stanza.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses especially vivid descriptions that appeal to the reader’s senses. For example, “of a black hole / and bulleted into a neighbouring galaxy, emerging / smaller and smoother.”
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines five and six of the second stanza.
It begins as a house, an end terrace
in this case
a daily paper
and a football team pushing for promotion.
In the first stanza of ‘Zoom!’ the speaker begins by bringing the reader into a series of images that are steadily zooming out of a scene. It starts with a house but “will not stop there.” There is a constant feeling of movement in these lines as the poet pushes the speaker’s view from one place to the next. He uses words like “cambers,” “on it goes,” and “quickly” to make sure the reader can’t stay in one place for long. The poem moves at a fairly quick place, furthered by the use of enjambment and the alternating short and long lines.
The “it” in these lines is not made clear until the poem draws to its conclusion in the third stanza.
On it goes, oblivious of the Planning Acts,
the green belts,
and bulleted into a neighbouring galaxy, emerging
smaller and smoother
than a billiard ball but weighing more than Saturn.
The “it” moves further, breaking out of the earth and away from the simple, very small parts of human life. It’s “out of our hands” in the third line of this stanza. This suggests that “it” doesn’t belong to the speaker but to a group, the entire human race. The “it,” which is later revealed to be words/writing, moves the reader through the eye of a black hole and into a neighboring galaxy. The poet is seeking to emphasize the possibilities inherent to writing and the vast number of places and experiences one can explore through writing. It’s a small thing, writing, but it has a great deal of mass.
People stop me in the street, badger me
It’s just words
I assure them. But they will not have it.
In the final, shorter stanza, the poet brings the reader back down to earth. Suddenly, he returns to the street with people badgering him and asking, “What is this, this that is so small / and so very smooth.” He tells them it’s “just words,” but they’re sure it’s something more. They “will not have it.” These last lines suggest the unfathomable size of the universe and the possibilities it contains. This is contrasted with the simple act of standing in line at the store. ‘Zoom!’ uses language creatively to explore these ideas and remind readers of how much the world and existence, more broadly, contains.
The tone is amazed and interested. The speaker takes an interest in the universe and what exists beyond the everyday lives of people standing in line at the store.
The speaker is someone who believes in the power of writing and imagination. It’s also someone who is willing to acknowledge the small role humanity plays in the universe. Other than that, there is little known about whom the speaker is supposed to be.
Armitage wrote ‘Zoom!’ to explore what language can accomplish. It uses a few short lines to take the reader on a journey around the universe and back home again.
Armitage uses examples of symbolism, metaphors, and personification. The latter is seen through his depiction of writing, and there is a good metaphor at the end of the second stanza when “it” is described as “a billiard ball but weighing more than Saturn.”
The meaning of ‘Zoom!’ by Simon Armitage is that the universe is incredibly large, and earth and humanity’s everyday chores and experiences are only a small part of it. Writing allows one to explore the vastness of existence.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Zoom!’ should also consider reading other Simon Armitage poems. For example:
- ‘A Vision’ – creates a warm, inviting tone and describes the ideals of a model of a city while at the same time questioning them.
- ‘Give’ – confronts the reader with the reality of homelessness and makes them realize that they could do more to help.
- ‘Hitcher’ – describes a brutal act of violence against a “free” hitchhiker committed by a speaker who is “under / the weather.”