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About this poet

Rae Armantrout was born in Vallejo, California, on April 13, 1947, and grew up in San Diego. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied with Denise Levertov, and a master's degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University.

She has published numerous books of poetry, including Just Saying (Wesleyan University Press, 2013); Money Shot (Wesleyan University Press, 2011); Versed (Wesleyan University Press, 2009), which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010; Next Life (Wesleyan University Press, 2007), selected by the New York Times as one of the most notable books of 2007; Up to Speed (Wesleyan University Press, 2004), a finalist for the PEN Center USA Award in Poetry; Veil: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2001), also a finalist for the PEN Center USA Award; The Pretext (Green Integer, 2001); Made To Seem (Sun & Moon Press, 1995); and The Invention of Hunger (Tuumba Press, 1979).

Part of the first generation of Language poets on the West Coast, her work has been praised for syntax that borders on everyday speech while grappling with questions of deception and distortion in both language and consciousness. About her poems, Robert Creeley has described “a quiet and enabling signature,” adding, “I don’t think there’s another poet writing who is so consummate in authority and yet so generous to her readers and company alike.”

In the preface to her selected poems, Veil, Ron Silliman describes her work as: "the literature of the anti-lyric, those poems that at first glance appear contained and perhaps even simple, but which upon the slightest examination rapidly provoke a sort of vertigo effect as element after element begins to spin wildly toward more radical...possibilities."

Armantrout's poetry has been widely anthologized, appearing in Language Poetries, (New Directions), In The American Tree, (National Poetry Foundation), Postmodern American Poetry (W.W. Norton), Poems for the Millennium, Vol. 2 (University of California Press), American Women Poets of the 21st Century (Wesleyan University Press), and several editions of Best American Poetry. She is also the author of a prose memoir, True, which was published by Atelos in 1998.

She has taught writing for almost twenty years at the University of California, San Diego.

Upper World

Rae Armantrout, 1947
If sadness
is akin to patience,

                  we're back!


Pattern recognition
was our first response

to loneliness.

Here and there were like
one place.

But we need to triangulate,
find someone to show.


     *

There's a jolt, quasi-electric,
when one of our myths
reverts to abstraction.

Now we all know
every name's Eurydice, 
briefly returned
from blankness

and the way back
won't bear scrutiny.

High voices
over rapid-pulsing synthesizers
intone, "without you" --

which is soothing.

We prefer meta-significance:

the way the clouds exchange
white scraps
in glory.

No more wishes.

No more bungalows
behind car-washes
painted the color of
swimming pools

From Up to Speed by Rae Armantrout. Copyright © 2004 by Rae Armantrout. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.

Rae Armantrout

Rae Armantrout

Rae Armantrout was born in Vallejo, California, in 1947, and grew up

by this poet

poem
Quick, before you die,
describe

the exact shade
of this hotel carpet.

What is the meaning
of the irregular, yellow

spheres, some
hollow,

gathered in patches
on this bedspread?

If you love me,
worship

the objects
I have caused

to represent me
in my absence.


     *

Over and over
tiers

of houses spill
poem
The ghosts swarm.
They speak as one
person. Each
loves you. Each
has left something
undone.

          •

Did the palo verde
blush yellow
all at once?

Today's edges
are so sharp

they might cut
anything that moved.

          •

The way a lost 
word

will come back
unbidden.

You're not interested
in it now,
poem
Sad, fat boy in pirate hat.
Long, old, dented,
copper-colored Ford.

How many traits
must a thing have
in order to be singular?

(Echo persuades us
everything we say
has been said at least once 
                                        before.)

Two plump, bald men
in gray tee-shirts
and tan shorts 

are walking