cover image Seeing Stars

Seeing Stars

Simon Armitage. Knopf, $25 (96p) ISBN 978-0-307-59943-8

Armitage, the author of many books of poetry and prose, is among Britain’s most popular poets (and poets are actually a bit famous over there), though this is only his second individual collection to appear in the U.S. (there was a slim selected volume called The Shout). It’s about time we started seeing his work: Armitage is drily funny, clever, technically adept, and dark, but not too dark. The prose poems forming this new book resemble nothing so much as the recent work of the American poet James Tate, though they’re not quite as wacky. In little prose stories and dramatic monologues, Armitage manages to touch on everything from the concerns of the sperm whale (“Don’t be taken in by the dolphins and their winning smiles, they are the pickpockets of the ocean”) to “the ruins of sex” and ill-conceived ventures like “Cheeses of Nazareth (“I fear for the long-term commercial viability of the new Christian cheese shop in our neighborhood”). The moral of all of these fables might be “don’t get your hopes up,” although Armitage does let a glimmer of light show through here and there, albeit at an odd angle, as when a married couple draw a curtain in the middle of their house, dividing them for life while simultaneously keeping them “inseparable and betrothed.” (Aug.)