Rae Armantrout

April 28 - April 29


Rae Armantrout was born in 1947 in Vallejo, California and grew up in San Diego, where save for a brief time at UC Berkeley — there she studied with Denise Levertov and met contemporaries, collaborators and friends such as Ron Silliman and Lyn Hejinian — she has spent most of her writing life. Often thought of as minimal, anti-lyric and difficult work, Armantrout describes her own poetry this way in an essay called “Cheshire Poetics”:

I think my poetry involves an equal counter-weight 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.

This seems to capture well the magnetic, entrancing and sometimes maddening complexity of Armantrout’s work, and also its brilliance for its apparent simplicity on the page. That is not to suggest that her poetry is self-obsessed in some way, or smug the way the Cheshire Cat sometimes seems to be. Armantrout is anything but apolitical; rather, she reads politics in the way language is used around herself and her readers every day, and sometimes, by repurposing and collaging found text, finds that “Finally, poetry, at least the poetry I value, can reproduce our conflicts and fractures and yet be held together in the ghost embrace of assonance and consonance, in the echoed and echoing body of language.”

Although Armantrout is often associated with the Language poets and contributed regularly to the collective autobiography project The Grand Piano, a landmark of that movement, much of her work operates outside of or along side of Language poetry. She has published twelve collections of poetry and been anthologized in such large collections as the Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry, The Oxford Book of American Poetry, and The Best American Poetry of several recent years. Her 2010 collection Versed was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle award, and a finalist for the National Book Award.