Reading Through the Stacks: 4. A Comparatively Hefty Tome Full of Beautiful, Spare Poems

Reading through the Oakland Public Library’s Poetry collection.

Taking a break from the 20th century, let’s spring ahead to something published this year.

Rae Armantrout (1947-) is a Pulitzer winning poet (2010 for Versed). She has published something like 10+ collections, which seems amazingly prolific to me. She was born and did her undergrad and graduate degrees in California. She’s associated with the Language poets, a movement that emerged in the 70s as a response to modernism. The goal is to really include the reader in the meaning of the poem, often by playing with the meaning/sounds of words (think Gertrude Stein) and trying to encourage more active reading. This movement is ongoing and has featured a large proportion of women writers. Armantrout in particular is known for her short lines and more lyrical approach.

Her newest book is hefty–it feels weighty and at 174 pages is fairly long for a poetry collection, but the lines are short and the book moves fairly quickly because of that, despite or maybe because of the line spacing. Most of her stanzas feel only hazily connected–you as the reader have to do a lot of the association work yourself. But this is really rewarding because everything you read becomes profound–you bring the deeper meaning.

In physics, every moment
lasts forever,

if seen from
increasing distance.

In none does
my mother
meet her grandchildren.

Rae Armantrout from “Meeting” (p. 170)

What I love about this collection is you can open to any page and find something that just connects–hits home. The book feels deftly woven. It circles, meanders, overlaps, and you are able to unpick the threads yourself. This is a collection that’ll be finding its place in my own library, and I can’t wait to read more of Armantrout’s work. There is something that reminds me of Emily Dickinson in Armantrout’s work–in the spare, deceptively simple lines there is so much richness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s