Partly: New and Selected Poems, 2001–2015
reviewed by Jennifer Michael Hecht
Associated with the Language School, Armantrout surprises us by showing up as a body with aches and a temperamental gut. Still what marks this enthralling collection is the clarity of thought regarding thoughts that are constitutionally unclear. One of the poems, “Imaginary Places,” is a one-paragraph prose poem that begins with “Reading, we are allowed to follow someone else’s train of thought as it starts off for an imaginary place. This train has been produced for us—or rather materialized and extended until it is almost nothing like the ephemeral realizations with which we’re familiar.” Armantrout walks us over to what usually cannot be said and finds a way to say it, here, reminding us that it is a paradox that the form of human communication we find most understandable and entertaining is very different from what goes on in our heads for most of our lives. When we encounter the more realistic fluster on the page it seems difficult but it is the only route to a certain kind of intellectual companionship, from whence we get to see new things. In some great new poems, Armantrout helps us spend time with the idea of the reality of a thing being its movement rather than its substance, its rules rather than its stuff, as is evident in her poem “Exchange.” Other highlights include “Instead” (“The eerie thing / is that ghosts don’t exist.”) and “Money Talks” (“Money is talking / to itself again”).
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall–Winter 2016.