About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"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.
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,
New twigs do the splits
as I once did
City of the future in which each subway station's stairs lead to the ground floor of a casino/
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 —
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
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.
Canaries served as coq-au-vin.
We thought of events as landmarks
then as lifebuoys,
but in this too we were mistaken.
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.
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
One cultivates a garden of peculiars
a plant like a halffolded accordion,
a plant like a pale rock, split in two
as if to ask,
is the original?"
(and a few self-starters with their sharp rocket-fin leaves.)
with these hollow bones,
this fly-away hair,
are you ready for a new season?
If it's just this:
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.
With large red lips,
a ceramic fish face in a pink knit pouch from which spinelike sticks protrude is suspended above the work station.
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.
What do you like best about the present?
its spangle and its nonlocality:
those eucalyptus leaves as points of light
splashed over this windshield.
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.
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 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
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
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
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,
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.
Those branches are good
because they remind me of others.
The others are the same
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
near eucalyptus strands of green crescents
and their shadows — flighty half-moons
nbsp;while the soul
nbsp;is made up
of appearance minus things
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
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
to the point of distraction.
In this series,
live our lives —
some version of our lives —
with (what might be)
most of what they do is feigned,
but not all.
That's what keeps us riveted.
How pairs of power lines
hold gray interstates
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
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
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,
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
We're out past the end
game where things get fuzzy,
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.
"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
"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.
"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.
Though it's also true that one gets bored.
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.
Sleep is insistent voices, mine
Peace is empty palaces
"How you create this level
of experience So
from a recording standpoint
Don't have time for jogging?
to buy wool and lumber
always had some testimony
But tell me sir
Forty years' experience with turning experience
into topiary makes me
a real insider.
The way whatever Midas touched
whatever I recognize
I'd like to leave
some or "mine"
but it's one thing that can't be shared.
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?
If clear yellow petals are enough
I'll be well
I'll be on my way to this
late summer dusk
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
But in the afterlife,
roots rip from your sockets,
new brains in their tips,
scouting for water
Rough, squat, bent,
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,
let's dispense with these "properties"
of matter —
such anachronistic clothes as ghosts wear.
Let's be mirrors facing mirrors,
fall in love
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.
"Protect your identity"
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.
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,
If I can describe the feeling of your absence precisely, which means using the names of things
Buds blacken against blanched light
St. Didacus' bells'
reminds us of itself,
something old and automated,
dividing before from now
again and again,
for a moment still similar
This blank sky
between parallel wires
The cold rays of the bristle cone,
she writes —
she who admires imitations.
Such sparse coronas
every knobby fist!
which will come
Come as "always,"
If shadows slide down a cliff face slowly —
not falling —
but softening its colors,
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,
Wait, I haven't found the right word yet.
Poem means homeostasis.
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
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?
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,
while sun surveys its grooves
and I try "instantly"
But the word is way back,
Light is "with God"
(light, the traveler).
Are you the come-on and the egress?
One who hobbles by determinedly?
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,
were just another word for death
What is the nature of the resting state but gaseous longing/
In the original/
final form —
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,
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?
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.
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.
Black bars and dots of low cloud,
almost a signature,
reflected on a sunset marsh.
Luxuriant and spurious code
as if we were meant to think,
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.
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.
The point is to see through the dying,
who pinch non-existent objects from the air
to this season's laying on of withered leaves?
A moment is everything
takes in simultaneously
or much of what
a creature feels
may not reach
and only a small part
(or none) of this
will be carried forward
to the next instant.
Any one not seconded
burns up in rage.
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.
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
the invading cube appears —
until any response seems stupid.
But we forgive them.
We've made camp
in the glitch
If sadness is akin to patience,
Pattern recognition was our first response
Here and there were like
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"
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 ContentsACKNOWLEDGMENTS FOR NEW PART OF PARTLY
FROM UP TO SPEED
Up to Speed
FROM NEXT LIFE
Make if New
What We Mean
On Your Way
FROM MONEY SHOT
Autobiography: Urn Burial
FROM JUST SAYING
Parallel Worlds Theory
What We Can Say
What People are Saying About This
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
"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
“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.”