Thursday, December 5, 2013

Rituals - Rae Armantrout

Today's book of poetry:  Rituals.  Rae Armantrout.  above/ground press.  Ottawa, Ontario.  2013.

This short chapbook by Rae Armantrout from the ever industrious above/ground press, is proof pudding that good things do come in small packages.  This thin work and these terse poems play much bigger than they first appear.



In this now ancient ritual
a succession of young women

are saucy,

which is to say they name
common objects and relations

as if they had mastered them
but shouldn't.

Each receives false approbation.


As Xmas sells winter
to its prisoners.

As warmth
feels like love;

and love is warmth
only more capricious.

Fingers uncurl.

Organs expand
and rise

toward a surface
that must never

be broken.


Armantrout's succinct style reminds me of a car that's been chopped, channelled, tuned.  Everything unnecessary has been torn out, cut away, thrown out.  What you are left with are the essentials for acceleration, thrust.  Maybe an automobile analogy is the wrong way to go but these poems are lean and crisp.  To paraphrase Ezra Pound, Armantrout is purifying the language of the tribe.



When did you first learn
that the bursts

of color and sound
were intended for you?

When did you unlearn this?


Believing yourself
to have a secret identity
can be a sign 
of madness.

On the other hand,
the lack
of a secret identity
can lead to depression.

Many have found it useful
to lie down
as men
believing themselves
to be little girls

or as girls
believing themselves
to be mermaids
in their own bodies.


Rae Armantrout's most recent book Just Saying was published by Wesleyan University Press in 2013. Prior to that - Versed, (Wesleyan, 2009), won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Books Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award.  Armantrout's publications and awards form a list as long as your arm.

The astounding above/ground press, which is run by the tireless Rob McLennan, continues to astound by publishing some of the best writers on the planet.  These non-descript, photo-copied, gems probably form one of the better catalogues in the small press world.

Rituals was Rae Armantrout's second above/ground press title as she had previously published Custom in 2012.

Conversation: Poet Rae Armantrout.  From PBS NewsHour

Rae Armantrout reading from her Pulitzer Prize winning book Versed.  From 92 Street Y.

The Holloway Series in Poetry - Rae Armantrout


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