RAE ARMANTROUT is a professor of writing in the literature department at the University of California at San Diego, and the author of eight books of poetry, including Up to Speed (2003) and Veil: New and Selected Poems (2001).
The San Diego-based Armantrout is usually considered the most lyrically oriented of the language poets, eschewing the longer, process-oriented works of the San Francisco wing (now geographically scattered) of her fellow travelers. Her 1998 autobiographical work, True, demonstrated that she could write compelling, if not virtuosic, prose; Wesleyan's selection shows that as with William Carlos Williams, to whom Armantrout owes a debt in the curious torquing of her sentences it is not stylistic pyrotechnics, grandiose theoretical syntheses or encyclopedic references that drives these terrific poems, but an original and quirky turn of mind. Veil includes work from seven previous collections, including The Pretext (which Green Integer is finally issuing whole), and a section of 19 new poems clocking in at 32 pages. Those who haven't discovered the superb poems of Necromance and Made to Seem will find their unsettling vignettes utterly compelling, alert to the vaguest shades of postmodern subjecthood. The Pretext's best poems are resonant coincidings of short bursts of insight, not necessarily aimed at metaphysical revelry (as in, say, Louise Glick's work or in writers of the "ellipticist" tendency) but suggesting an ethical dimension to being: "How do I look?// meaning what/ could I pass for/ when every eye's/ a guard," she writes in "My Associates," and later, "Time's tic:/ to pitch forward/ then catch `itself'/ again.// `We're' bombing Iraq again.// If I turn on the news,/ someone will say, `We / mean business.'" The new poems (including "The Plan," which will be featured in Best American Poetry 2001) continue to avoid "wild/ posturing" for "leafy// prestidigitation" readers won't believe their eyes. (Oct.) Forecast: Armantrout steadily gained recognition in the '90s as writers and critics of all stripes discovered her work; Veil is sure to be often assigned on campus, while the full-text Pretext will be more confined to fans. The publication of the two books together, especially given Wesleyan's high po-biz profile, should give Armantrout an extra push toward overdue award nominations. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
"Armantrout is usually considered the most lyrically oriented of the language poets . . . Wesleyan's selection shows that--as with William Carlos Williams, to whom Armantrout owes a debt in the curious torquing of her sentences - it is not stylistic pyrotechnics, grandiose theoretical syntheses or encyclopedic references that drive these terrific poems, but an original and quirky turn of mind."--Publishers Weekly
"This long-awaited collection proves that Armantrout is not a 'language poet' and is not confined by expectations of the American avant-garde, among which much of her work has appeared. In brief lines and unexpected weavings, Armantrout addresses history, love, nature, and the darkness of domesticity. This is one of the best books of poetry released in 2001."--Bloomsbury Review