Versed by Rae Armantrout Read ñ 100

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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry 2010Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award 2009Rae Armantrout has always organized her collections of poetry as though they were works in themselves Versed brings two of these seuences together offering readers an expanded view of the arc of her writing The poems in the first section Versed play with vice and versa the perversit. It won the Pulitzer the National Book Critics Circle and was a finalist for the National Book but I have to admit that I am not the ideal audience for Versed It is what they call “language poetry” and I have never been much of a fan Still of the little “language” poetry I have encountered Armantrout is among the best“Language” poetry—emerging in the ‘70’s—set itself in opposition to the fashionable confessional poetry of the day Lowell Berryman Plath Sexton great stuff that later degenerated into the typical “workshop” poem—by de emphasizing the emotional utterance of the writer and emphasizing the intellectual act of the reader presenting him with a fragmentary often metonymic language artifacts and inviting the reader’s interpretation It downplays the personal and the lyric in favor of the analytic and the precise; often it begins to uestion the permanency the very existence—of the human personality of time itself At worst poetry like this is a dry collection of philosophical loops; at best it is something austere and Olympian like Zukovsky's Z or the abstract lyrics of WC WilliamsRae Armantrout is a seriously playful poet intent on exploring the nature of language and the speaker of language their relation to each other and the external world I find many of her poems baffling but at best they are gnomic and illuminating like a sentence of Wittgenstein’s or a Zen koan In this book her exploration is heightened in its intensity and significance because she has been diagnosed with cancer and the nature of the cell that creates and uncreates also becomes an object of meditation Her cancer makes the poem of a narrative providing added interest for old school confessional poetry fans like meThe following are two poems taken from “Dark Matter” the second and last section of the book the one that deals elliptically with Armantrout’s cancer AROUNDTime is pleasedto draw itself outpermit itselfpendulous loopsto allow themmeaningthis meaningas it goes alongChuck and I are pleasedto have found a spotwhere my ashes can be scatteredIt looks like a construction sitenowbut it’s adjacentto a breathtaking rocky coastChuck sees placeswhere he might snorkelWe’re being shown throughby a sort of realtorWe’re interested but can’t get herto fix the price“The future is all around us”It’s a placeanyplace where we don’t existPASSSingle cellsbecome like mindedforming a consensusor uorumBioluminescence and virulenceare two wayswe describe the feelingthey share thenWith efforthumans can approachthis condition“Synchronized swimminghas afforded mea wonderful life”says one informantWhy notI too would liketo exert powerover timeto pass itaggressively dramaticallyand forget all about ituntil eventhe meaning of the word“pass”gets lostin a rosy glow

characters Versed by Rae Armantrout

Versed by Rae ArmantroY of human consciousness They flirt with error and delusion skating on a thin ice that inevitably cracks Metaphor forms a crust beneath which the crevasse of each experience Dark Matter the second section alludes to than the unseen substance thought to make up the majority of mass in the universe The invisible and unknowable are confronted directly as Armantrout's experience wi. The idea that Rae Armantrout's work is difficult is as has been remarked about Ulysses is made too much of There are items phrases condensed cadences and references that need to be parsed examined considered thoughtfully but as with Joyce's musicality wit and sensuality there is a tangible presence in Rae's work with which a reader can frame their own response It's an old distinction that one notices in the best voices the emphasis is on creating a sense of things rather than making sense making sense in this case being that the one wants to define and contain experience as if it were a commodity What Rae achieves and what Stephen Burt spoke to in his New York Times review of Versed is that the facts of our lives the joy the agony the aches and illnesses are too slippery in their larger implications to place within convenient brackets She understands what happens when a recollected event and a later idea merge in the stream of the alert psyche Her method perhaps is the reverse of that of Ashbery or Ammonstwo poets who have with freuent inspiration written at length to suggest the collisions of subjective responses to the material plain Rae Armantrout gets the exact moment when a history of impressions meet each other on the long highway She places the reader in the moment amid the particulars her poems highlight The reader finds something of their story in her rigorously pared back sharing The readers get it and it would be nice if her being awarded a Pulitzer indicates that larger media are done ghettoizing poets In the meantime it's a good thing that she has the award A very good thing

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Versed by Rae Armantrout Read ñ 100 ¸ Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry 2010Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award 2009Rae Armantrout has always organized her collections of poetry as though they were works in themselves Versed brings two of these seuences together offering readers an expanded view of the arc of her writing The pTh cancer marks these poems with a new austerity shot through with her signature wit and stark unsentimental thinking Together the poems of Versed part us from our assumptions about reality revealing the gaps and fissures in our emotional and linguistic constructs showing us ourselves where we are most exposed A reader's companion is available at http versedreadersitewesleyaned. A lovely articulation of the spaces and states between the un sayable I don't think of the language as terse so much as rigorously refined; there is not an extra ounce of fat on this book and yet it is as sonically logical and sound as the sounds water makes Just marvelous