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Poems of the Decade (Edexcel)

2. Simon Armitage – Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass

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About this Lecture


In this module, we read through Simon Armitage’s ‘Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass’, focusing in particular on: (i) the kind of poetry that Armitage writes; (ii) what pampas grass is; (iii) the symbolism of man versus nature; (iv) the attribution of human feelings and emotions to the chainsaw, a technique known as anthropomorphisation; (v) the extent to which the chainsaw is ‘overkill’ for the job at hand (“This was the sledgehammer taken to crack the nut”); (vi) the relationship between man, nature and machinery; (vii) the way in which man’s relationship to nature in this poem differs from how poets usually talk about nature; and (viii) the final scene of the poem, in which the pampas grass begins to grow back (“In the weeks that came new shoots like asparagus tips / sprang up from its nest and by June”).


In this course, John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores the twenty poems that make up the ‘Poems of the Decade’ cluster for A Level English Literature (Edexcel). Each poem is read in detail, with a short commentary highlighting aspects of language, style, themes, motifs, and so on. In the case of Patience Agbabi’s ‘Eat Me’, for example, we think about the extent to which we can identify the speaker of the poem with the author herself, the question of whether the couple of the poem can be decribed as happy, and the influence of Robert Browning’s ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ (1836) and Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865). When we come to Simon Armitage’s ‘Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass’, we think about the theme of man versus nature, the concept of ‘anthropomorphisation’, and the final lines of the poem in which it has become clear that the pampas grass has beaten the chainsaw. And so on for the whole selection.

The poems discussed in this course are:
1. Patience Agbabi – Eat Me
2. Simon Armitage – Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass
3. Ros Barber – Material
4. John Burnside – History
5. Julia Copus – An Easy Passage
6. Tishani Doshi – The Deliverer
7. Ian Duhig – The Lammas Hireling
8. Helen Dunmore – To My Nine-Year-Old Self
9. UA Fanthorpe – A Minor Role
10. Vicki Feaver – The Gun
11. Leontia Flynn – The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled
12. Roderick Ford – Giuseppe
13. Seamus Heaney – Out of the Bag
14. Alan Jenkins – Effects
15. Sinéad Morrissey – Genetics
16. Andrew Motion – From the Journal of a Disappointed Man
17. Daljit Nagra – Look We Have Coming to Dover!
18. Ciaran O’Driscoll – Please Hold
19. Adam Thorpe – On Her Blindness
20. Tim Turnbull – Ode on a Grayson Perry Urn


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2021, January 09). Poems of the Decade (Edexcel) - Simon Armitage – Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, John. "Poems of the Decade (Edexcel) – Simon Armitage – Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 09 Jan 2021,