Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rae Armantrout: a Californian in the infidel east

"Trying to read a book by Rae Armantrout in a single sitting is like trying to drink a bowl of diamonds. What’s inside is all so shiny  & clear & even tiny that it appears perfectly do-able."  Silliman's blog, January 27, 2009

I saw Armantrout, 2010 Pulitzer-in-Poetry prizewinner, last night at KGB Bar in the East Village. In the flesh she's shiny and pert yet unpreposessing. Small, appropriately aged for a woman of sixty-three and--it does show, it does--Californian.

Californian? She is open. She can allow insurgencies from the infidel east to settle on her intellectual landmass because they serve as, ultimately, mulch, nutrient digested and made new and freer than their Puritanical origin could dream of if an origin could dream. Californian? Her poetry is loose and tight, smart, beautiful..

Okay, what do I know. Well, I know she's sexy. Introducing a poem, she showed us, finger in seductive curl, how she can summon the previously disinterested--now that she's a Pulitzer Prize winner. She has adapted new-found power to her interests. In this case a top physicist consented to lunch with her so she could harvest motion in space and time for a poem. Armantrout didn't master top-level physics in an hour, but she dug her game and the joy that comes from telling the story. 

Back to Silliman. "But the stones are so hard & their edges so chiseled that the instant you begin they’ll start to rip your insides apart." Making the reader feel is a power no prize bestow. It's innate, hard-earned and a power Rae Armantrout owns.


We love our cat
for her self
regard is assiduous
and bland,

for she sits in the small
patch of sun on our rug
and licks her claws
from all angles

and it is far
to "balanced reporting"

though, of course,
it is also
the very same thing.

Rae Armantrout, Next Life, Wesleyan University Press, 2007.


  1. This is an outstanding reading and review of a remarkably outstanding poet and poetry. Right on!