Excess and Poetic Justice
UC San Diego Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poet Turns Verse Inside-Out
RAE ARMANTROUT| Professor Emerita of Writing, Department of Literature
So what does a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet do after calling out the 2008 financial crisis with a book of poems, "Money Shot," that explores how capitalism pervades our everyday lives? She keeps writing verse about whatever is around her in a crisp and creative way. Her latest poetry compilations, consistent with this method, include, "Partly: New and Selected Poems, 2001 - 2015" (Wesleyan University Press, 2016), and, "Itself," (Wesleyan University Press, 2015). She is Professor Emerita of Writing at UC San Diego, Rae Armantrout.
One of the founders of the West Coast group of Language poets and winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for her "Versed" collection, Armantrout is known for her distinctive lyrical voice and attention to the domestic.
"If I watch something on television, if I hear news in the car, if I hear certain phrases being bandied about, or if I see things happening to my friends . . . of course that is going to get into my work," said Armantrout. "I like to write about the intersection of the public and the private, or what is left of the private, in our lives, and to bring those aspects of reality together."
According to critic Stephen Burt, Armantrout turns lyric inside-out by embodying broad questions and concerns within individual words and by arranging small clusters of phrases that muster meaningful conflict.
"From these techniques, Armantrout has become one of the most recognizable, and one of the best, poets of her generation," writes Burt.
According to a recent Publisher's Weekly Poetry Review, Armantrout's, "Partly: New and Selected Poems, 2001 - 2015," is considered a formidable collection that offers a look at her evolution as a poet, as well as her language-centered style. Her steady approach includes short lines, crisp divisions and segmentation that upends meaning. For example: "I may want to lie still / and think about my choices," she writes in "Partly."
Thereadbooks.com states, "Rae Armantrout's poetry comprises one of the most refined and visionary bodies of work written over the last 40 years. These potent, compact meditations on our complicated times reveal her observant sensibility, lively intellect and emotional complexity. . . 'Partly' affirms Armantrout's reputation as one of our sharpest and most innovative writers."
In her collection, "Itself," Armantrout's poems "read like necklaces," according to Katie Hibner of Siblini art + literature journal, who describes them as "long strands of concept beaded with gems of minimalistic verse."
"Armantrout is perhaps one of the most sensitive writers I have encountered," asserts Hibner. "As if she is delicately concocting an elixir, Armantrout pours extracts of a myriad of themes into each piece."
Armantrout has written that she thinks her poetry involves an equal counterweight of assertion and doubt.
"It's a Cheshire poetics, one that points two ways then vanishes in the blur of what is seen and what is seeing, what can be known and what it is to know. That double-bind," Armantrout notes.
Guggenheim Fellow in Poetry (2008) and Recipient of National Book Critics Circle Award, Armantrout has taught writing in the Department of Literature at UC San Diego for more than 20 years. Her poems are telegenically "regional" filled with bungalows, newscasters and swimming pools, yet they ring with an immaterial clarity that quietly subsumes her readers and listeners in a radical and eerily funny vision.