Partly: New and Selected Poems, 2001-2015

Partly: New and Selected Poems, 2001-2015

by Rae Armantrout

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Overview

Rae Armantrout's poetry comprises one of the most refined and visionary bodies of work written over the last forty years. These potent, compact meditations on our complicated times reveal her observant sensibility, lively intellect, and emotional complexity. This generous volume charts the evolution of Armantrout's mature, stylistically distinct work. In addition to 25 new poems, there are selections from her books Up To Speed, Next Life, the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award winning volume Versed, Money Shot, Just Saying, and Itself. Including some of her most brilliant pieces, Partly affirms Armantrout's reputation as one of our sharpest and most innovative writers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819577733
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 10/03/2017
Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 252
Sales rank: 673,321
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

RAE ARMANTROUT is professor emerita of writing at the University of California, San Diego, and the author of thirteen previous books of poetry.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Legacy

"Do words just pop into your head?"

Some may go unexploded.

"Have you thought much about your legacy?"

I'm a legacy prisoner.

No I'm not.

"What do you call precious?"

The precious doesn't

get around much

so it stays small.

Or it orbits the same small pronoun,

a kid on a carousel.

"Look at me!"

It fiddles with itself.

But I've got bigger things to pick up

and put down.

In Front

Tree in new leaf

in front of a brick building

with narrow white-wood balconies

slung under panes of glass

in which a tree

is being dissected

before an audience of one,

none,
hundreds.

New twigs do the splits

as I once did

Exchange

City of the future in which each subway station's stairs lead to the ground floor of a casino/
mall.

What counts is the role defined for each piece by a system of rules saying how it can move,
not the stuff the piece is made of.

In the intersection,
a muscular, shirtless man with small American flags tied to each wrist —
so that he looks like a wrestler —
pushes, no, shoves then catches a stroller piled high with plastic bags —
his stuff.

City of the future,
where a tramway to the top of a peak opens onto a wax museum in which Michael Jackson extends one gloved hand

Canary

1

Some folks got tortured by folks

right afterwards at an obscure

farmer's market where handcrafted soda

and artisanal mining

showed we were on the right track.

2

Canaries served as coq-au-vin.

3

We thought of events as landmarks

first,
then as lifebuoys,

but in this too we were mistaken.

Mistakes

1

The subject will claim that she has been taken to the wrong place.

That the room she is brought back to is not the room she left.

That these comings and goings are happening to someone else,

are gathering momentum controlled by a secret mechanism.

That she needs to tell someone.

2

I walk out the door to the stone bench

without meaning to
(without meaning it?),

each step jarring my frame

as it would anyone's

If

1

One cultivates a garden of peculiars

"beyond reproach"

a plant like a halffolded accordion,

a plant like a pale rock, split in two

as if to ask,
"Where

is the original?"

2

(and a few self-starters with their sharp rocket-fin leaves.)

3

You, husk-light,
forgetful,

with these hollow bones,

this fly-away hair,

are you ready for a new season?

If it's just this:
nutmeg-flavored latte,

"pumpkin"

Surplus

I sat on the patio and wrote Each afternoon I would sit on the patio where one waggish, unmoored tendril nodded emphatically and the tree cast a web of nervous yet resilient shadows, while the crickets had no idea what they were insisting on —

but then what's an idea?

I might visualize living sculpture (in which subjectivity, unable to either detach itself from the body or direct it, had a public experience of itself as surplus) without wishing to harm anyone.

In fact, I did.

Assembly

1

With large red lips,
a ceramic fish face in a pink knit pouch from which spinelike sticks protrude is suspended above the work station.

2

Though ghosts don't exist,
electrons on the mirror's surface absorb arriving photons and,
in their excitement,
emit others that come back your way,
replicate a woman.

Outburst

1

What do you like best about the present?

Reflection —

its spangle and its nonlocality:

those eucalyptus leaves as points of light

splashed over this windshield.

2

What if every moment is a best guess on a pop quiz?

As if waking up,
I stop explaining

Tony Soprano's outburst

to his aggravated henchmen.

Taking Place

Once we liked the conspicuous but constrained,

the push-up bra under the shirtwaist,

a small bow at the throat,

the appearance of a struggle

toward the diminutive,
the punctum.

The slender second hand

jerking forward as if helpless,
making its same sound.

We might stand in a thicket

where a battle had taken place

and be thrilled by the far-off roar

of traffic

Easily

The models in the Gentlemen's Club ad are posed with pink mouths slack,
eyes narrowed to slits.

Show me stunned resentment —

the way the world absorbs an insult it won't easily forget

Partly

In this ad for Newfoundland,
an old woman steps onto the porch of the lone house on a remote cove and shakes a white sheet at a partly cloudy sky as if

Matched burgundy berries on adjacent stems,

perfect ear bobs,

with no one wearing them

Parallel Worlds Theory

1

When a new bar called The Air-Conditioned Lounge opens and its sign is in old-time cursive this is ironic because

the building is a concrete box and the sign looks like a gift card,
no,

this is ironic because its claim is true but does nothing to distinguish it.

Either this sign is a reversal of the many novel yet dubious claims we endure

or it expresses guarded nostalgia for a time when it was that easy to be cool.

2

Those branches are good

because they remind me of others.

The others are the same

but small

Word Problems

If a fat man with one earlobe distended by a large ring

and a thin man in a heavy neck chain

sit together checking email

 nbsp;The real is made up
 nbsp;of things minus
 nbsp;appearance

near eucalyptus strands of green crescents

and their shadows — flighty half-moons

 nbsp;while the soul
 nbsp;is made up

of appearance minus things

Action Potential

Who sequesters negatively charged ions and waits.

Milton's devils make me sad —

the way Satan must cross chaos and dark night hour by hour to reach us,
actually flying as if space were real,
the way he stops and asks directions

Who runs along the tops of trains, leaping from car to car,
ratcheted into the present in his topcoat

if there is no

Torn

1

If the whole ragged current were a creature,

we could expect it to both anticipate and remember

the splash it makes here on this rock,

its acrobatic performance of momentum

run through

to the point of distraction.

2

In this series,
sleeper agents

live our lives —
some version of our lives —

with (what might be)
this difference:

most of what they do is feigned,

but not all.

That's what keeps us riveted.

Divisor

1

How pairs of power lines

hold gray interstates

between them

2

List of ways the body befriends the body:

strumming the left toes over the right as if;

causing each finger to touch its mate and press.

It's a good thing the body's split.

The two sides can make up

while the head goes on

saying what it's like

Life's Work

1

Did I say I was a creature of habit?

I meant the opposite.

I meant behavior is a pile of clothes

I might or might not wear.

Before all the sowing and reaping could go on for centuries,

before the calendar,
I must have been convinced

that my movements were both mandated

and blessed.

2

I've never been an old woman knitting by a fire,

but I've played one in images

where it meant being foolish or wise, a mistress

of distraction's indirection.

To rock while entwining is life's work,

but I am reckless,
restless

The Difficulty

This film, like many others,
claims we'll enjoy life now that we've come through

difficulties, dangers so incredibly condensed that they must be over.

If the hardship was undergone by others,
we identified with them

and, if the danger was survived by simpler life forms,
they're included in this moment

when the credits roll and we don't know when to stand

The Ether

We're out past the end

game where things get fuzzy,

less thingy,

though in past times we practiced

precision concrete as a slot machine.

But to be precise you need to stop

a moment which turns out to be

impracticable and besides

speed is of the essence.

Don't worry.

"Of" can take care of itself

and it's fine to say "essence"

now that it's understood to mean ether,

a kind of filler made either

of inattention or absorption

somewhere near the Planck length

What We Can Say

1

"The traumatized rats practiced excessive self-grooming."

Thinking is practice.

The idea that we can improve is a form of self-grooming.

Adjusting to the rapidly changing orientations of figures on a screen can feel like having a succession of ideas,
each of which must be incorporated into our current attitude.

To incorporate change without disorientation is to win.

2

"Ideas link things in novel ways."

We might say that music attempts to make time into space — visualizable, repeatable.

(We may have said this previously.)

Or we may say music attempts to make space into time so that between the current stances of the musicians there exists something like flow.

But there is really no direction in comparison,
only the desire that two entities become one,

as if reduction in number were the purpose of all thought.

3

Though it's also true that one gets bored.

Voices

You're boring, people.

America doesn't want to watch you sleep.

America doesn't want to hear you think about tacos.

Men in uniforms are clubbing onlookers.

I've been informed this is all for show.

These are not real audience members.

Overhead

Sleep is insistent voices, mine

or anyone's,
running

some scam.

Peace is empty palaces

adrift overhead.

"How you create this level

of experience So

from a recording standpoint

Altered Cage

1

Don't have time for jogging?

to buy wool and lumber

always had some testimony

altered cage

But tell me sir

2

Forty years' experience with turning experience

into topiary makes me

a real insider.

3

The way whatever Midas touched

turned gold,
whatever I recognize

is mine.
I'd like to leave

some or "mine"
with you,

but it's one thing that can't be shared.

Transport

1

Would you like the world to end now

(in your lifetime)

so you don't miss anything?

Would you like the world to go on

so that someone later

might feel as you once did?

Did you feel anxious when alone?

Did you feel restless at parties?

2

If clear yellow petals are enough

like sails,
I'll be well

away.

I'll be on my way to this

late summer dusk

Sockets

You feed yourself frothy maple Greek

mousse whip. Each bite a virgin.

Promiscuity and sloth no longer sins

after what you've done.

Or you have perfect understanding

of past events which no longer

seem unjust.
Your "O"

a sphere,
a song.

But in the afterlife,

roots rip from your sockets,

new brains in their tips,

scouting for water

Particular

1

Rough, squat, bent,
crabbed, cranky.

A crank is a person who is over-enthusiastic about a particular topic.

To be particular is to be choosy.

A particle is a body

whose extent and internal structure,
if any,

are irrelevant.

2

You there,
let's dispense with these "properties"
of matter —
such anachronistic clothes as ghosts wear.

Let's be mirrors facing mirrors,

fall in love

Lie

1

I lay down the acidification of the ocean with a sly smile.

Unstoppable beats fiery impact every time.

But the sweet yellow shoulders of the road —

the up and up into same blossom.

I'd like to hold these in reserve.

2

"Protect your identity"
says Mileage.com
three times today as if it knew something.

I may want to fly cheap,
cruise in luxury,
buy a walk-in tub and burial insurance.

I may want to lie still and think about my choices.

Before

1

Would my life be like a letter to you then?

We never wrote letters.

I'm passing the signs we slipped by together.

There goes Soda and Swine.

That name is funny because it's a joke we shared about alliteration,
right?

If I can describe the feeling of your absence precisely, which means using the names of things

Buds blacken against blanched light

as ever

2

St. Didacus' bells'
ditty

reminds us of itself,

something old and automated,

dividing before from now

again and again,
these two

for a moment still similar

Followers

1

This blank sky

between parallel wires

reserved

for penmanship

practice.

2

The cold rays of the bristle cone,

she writes —

she who admires imitations.

Such sparse coronas

surrounding

every knobby fist!

3

"Naught"

must follow

"for"

which will come

after "all."

Come as "always,"

walking backwards

Song

If shadows slide down a cliff face slowly —
not falling —
but softening its colors,
I'll wait.

Or if shadows bend and straighten,
repeatedly, and the intervals between are not fixed

If the sun clears the wall behind me and the little table brightens

If the background is still while the foreground is in motion —
or if it's the other way,
I'll wait

Approximate

Wait, I haven't found the right word yet.

Poem means homeostasis.

"Is as"

As is

Film is enough like death.

In a bright light at the far end,
attractive strangers gesture.

They are searching the system for systemic threats.

I was going to pay attention.

Attention passes through a long cord

into the past progressive

CHAPTER 2

FROM Up to Speed

Up to Speed

Streamline to instantaneous voucher in/voucher out system.

The plot winnows.

The Sphinx wants me to guess.

Does a road run its whole length at once?

Does a creature curve to meet itself?

Whirlette!

Covered or cupboard breast? Real

housekeeping's kinesthesiac. Cans

held high to counterbalance "won't."

Is it such agendas

which survive as souls?

Vagueness is personal!

A wall of concrete bricks,
right here,
while sun surveys its grooves

and I try "instantly"
then "forever."

But the word is way back,
show-boating.

Light is "with God"

(light, the traveler).

Are you the come-on and the egress?

One who hobbles by determinedly?

Not yet?

Form

Dear April, I appreciated the way the paragraphs were all about the same length. I especially liked how your sentences appeared to relate to one another. It was getting late,
they said. Solemn,
blunt flash of sun off the window of a Coors Light truck.

On a fence across the street, wings of a wooden chicken spun backward. Everyone had reason to be proud.
I could handle symbols without being manipulated by them.
Like a stone butch, you might say, but that's only connotation.

Meanwhile, in the photographs,
my expression was fading,
as if my darling,
Ambiguity,
were just another word for death

What is the nature of the resting state but gaseous longing/
regret?
In the original/
final form —

without objects

Currency

I stare at the edge

until the word tulip

comes up where I thought it might.

But the lag-time is a problem.

The swollen, yellow head of Tweety-Bird

now offered at the border

as balloon or ceramic,

as baby plus crucifixion,

as distended incredulity

held toward the cars,
as silence

The Fit

In a fit of repugnance each moment rips itself in half,

producing a twin.


In a coming-of-age story each dream produces me:

an ignorance on the point of revelation.


I'm at a side table

in a saloon in Alaska,

my eye on the door where a flood of strangers pours in.

The door or the window?

It's morning.

Middle Men

The story is told from the view-point of two young technicians, one fat and one thin, who must give their superior a moment by moment account of their attempts to monitor the subject. Suspense occurs, occasionally, when they must tell the superior that they're having trouble keeping the listening devices within range. We sympathize with the hunted subject, but also with the clearly competent, frequently exasperated technicians, whose situation is, after all, much more like our own.

End Times

1

Galaxies run from us. "Don't look!"
Was this the meaning of the warning in the Garden?
When a dreamer sees she's dreaming,
it causes figments to disperse.

2

Black bars and dots of low cloud,

almost a signature,
reflected on a sunset marsh.

Luxuriant and spurious code

as art,
as if we were meant to think,

"Beautiful!"—

so we do

and a ripple travels in one spot.

When something reaches the speed of light

it will appear to freeze,

growing gradually less meaningful.

3

Being able to look at water soothes the anxious emptiness between thoughts. I think again and again about the way the water looks. I can keep each thought longer by writing it down. The process of writing this sentence is time-consuming in itself, almost irritatingly slow — so now I rush and jumble the letters. It occurs to me that later I may not be able to read what I wrote.

Seconds

1

The point is to see through the dying,

who pinch non-existent objects from the air

sequentially,

to this season's laying on of withered leaves?

2

A moment is everything

one person

(see below)

takes in simultaneously

though some

or much of what

a creature feels

may not reach

conscious awareness

and only a small part

(or none) of this

will be carried forward

to the next instant.

3

Any one not seconded

burns up in rage.

Next Generations

1

But, on "Star Trek," we aren't the Borg,

the aggressive conglomerate,

each member part humanoid, part

machine, bent on assimilating

foreign cultures. In fact,

we destroy their ship,

night after night,

in preparation for sleep.

2

We sense something's wrong

when our ideal selves

look like contract players.

The captain plays what's left

of believable authority

as a Shakespearean actor.

The rest are there to show surprise

each time

the invading cube appears —

until any response seems stupid.

But we forgive them.

We've made camp

in the glitch

Upper World

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

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Partly"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Rae Armantrout.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS FOR NEW PART OF PARTLY
FROM UP TO SPEED
Up to Speed
Currency
The Fit
Middle Men
End Times
Seconds
Next Generations
Upper World
Once
Almost
Phrasing?
FROM NEXT LIFE
Tease
Two, Three
Close
Thing Empty
The Subject
Reversible
Yonder
Framing
Make if New
Again
Yoohoo
Next Life
Twizzle?
FROM VERSED
Results
Versed
Address
Vehicles
A Resemblance
Operations Guess
Scumble Presto
What We Mean
Later
Own
On Your Way
Around Dark
Matter
Unbidden
Simple Djinn
Missing Persons
Integer
Remaining Hoop
Anchor
Pass
FROM MONEY SHOT
Staging
Across
Prayers
Fuel
The Gift
Spin
Bubble Wrap
Answer
Autobiography: Urn Burial
Soft Money
Advent With
Outage
Duration
Errands
Exact Money
Talks Long
Green
Number?
FROM JUST SAYING
Scripture
Instead
Dress Up
Accounts
Ghosted
Spent
Haunts
The Look
At Least
My Apocalypse
Arrivals
Transactions
Scale
And
Experts
Between Islands
Luster Progress
Bardos Mother's
Day Meant
FROM ITSELF
Chirality A
Conceit
Conclusion
Pitch
Sonnet 3
Itself
Flo Sponsor
Personhood
Occurrence
Headlong
Believing
Head Control
Rituals
Holiday The
Eye
Expression
Lounge Area
The Times?
Home?
NEW POEMS
Legacy
In Front
Exchange
Canary
Mistakes
If
Surplus
Assembly
Outburst
Taking Place
Easily
Partly
Parallel Worlds Theory
Word Problems
Action Potential
Torn
Divisor
The Difficulty
The Ether
What We Can Say
Voices
Overhead
Altered Cage
Transport
Normal
Sockets
Particular
Lie
Before
Followers
Song
Approximate

What People are Saying About This

Cathy Wagner

“If you missed any of the collections from Rae Armantrout’s prolific second period, which spans illness, the financial crash, and a fervent and witty engagement with science, this book’s a gift to you: a fat batch of poems, selected and new. In the brave and brilliant new poems, Armantrout slyly questions her own life’s work in poetry, her “40 years/of turning experience into topiary.” But this “topiary” will stand. Armantrout’s poems are funny, politically sharp, feminist, anecdotal, and wise. You’ll read them in a sitting (she’s terse) and for the rest of your life. Armantrout tries to feel the edges of what can be said, saying it one way, then another, to see whether it is the same it, to never quite catch it "just saying" itself. What would we do without Rae Armantrout, who slants the said so we see how we don’t know?”

Peter Middleton

“Rae Armantrout finds extraordinary poetry in the ways we make sense of the world. She tracks the insights, struggles and false steps by which reasoning connects what we see with our own eyes to the images that tumble from films, television and the internet. Her exploration of the ecology of ideas has also made her one of our finest poets of science. What on earth are these golden new ideas of quantum computing or dark matter that the physicists are talking about? Armantrout insists on biting the gold, and introduces even the most cosmological ideas to her own neighborhood. She discovers that the two cultures of science and the arts can touch down on the same sites of contemporary life.”

Lydia Davis

“Hoopskirts, star jasmine, synchronized swimming, Russian icons, a ceramic fish face, electrons and photons: in these poems, everything is interconnected, thought through, deeply felt and expressed in the most precise and necessary words. Rae Armantrout is one of our most inventive and magnetic poets, and she never disappoints: with inspired patience, she embraces the strangeness of our familiar world and refashions it into something new and utterly transporting.”

From the Publisher

"Hoopskirts, star jasmine, synchronized swimming, Russian icons, a ceramic fish face, electrons and photons: in these poems, everything is interconnected, thought through, deeply felt and expressed in the most precise and necessary words. Rae Armantrout is one of our most inventive and magnetic poets, and she never disappoints: with inspired patience, she embraces the strangeness of our familiar world and refashions it into something new and utterly transporting."—Lydia Davis, author of Can't and Won't

"If you missed any of the collections from Rae Armantrout's prolific second period, which spans illness, the financial crash, and a fervent and witty engagement with science, this book's a gift to you: a fat batch of poems, selected and new. In the brave and brilliant new poems, Armantrout slyly questions her own life's work in poetry, her "40 years/of turning experience into topiary." But this "topiary" will stand. Armantrout's poems are funny, politically sharp, feminist, anecdotal, and wise. You'll read them in a sitting (she's terse) and for the rest of your life. Armantrout tries to feel the edges of what can be said, saying it one way, then another, to see whether it is the same it, to never quite catch it "just saying" itself. What would we do without Rae Armantrout, who slants the said so we see how we don't know?" —Cathy Wagner, author of Nervous Device

"Rae Armantrout finds extraordinary poetry in the ways we make sense of the world. She tracks the insights, struggles and false steps by which reasoning connects what we see with our own eyes to the images that tumble from films, television and the internet. Her exploration of the ecology of ideas has also made her one of our finest poets of science. What on earth are these golden new ideas of quantum computing or dark matter that the physicists are talking about? Armantrout insists on biting the gold, and introduces even the most cosmological ideas to her own neighborhood. She discovers that the two cultures of science and the arts can touch down on the same sites of contemporary life."—Peter Middleton, author of Physics Envy: American Poetry and Science in the Cold War and After

Daniel Handler

“You know when you look at a word until it means nothing and then, suddenly and at last, everything? The word is poetry. The poet is Rae Armantrout.”

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