Versed

Versed

by Rae Armantrout

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Overview

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (2010)
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award (2009)

Rae Armantrout has always organized her collections of poetry as though they were works in themselves. Versed brings two of these sequences together, offering readers an expanded view of the arc of her writing. The poems in the first section, Versed, play with vice and versa, the perversity of human consciousness. They flirt with error and delusion, skating on a thin ice that inevitably cracks: "Metaphor forms / a crust / beneath which / the crevasse of each experience." Dark Matter, the second section, alludes to more than the unseen substance thought to make up the majority of mass in the universe. The invisible and unknowable are confronted directly as Armantrout's experience with cancer marks these poems with a new austerity, shot through with her signature wit and stark unsentimental thinking. Together, the poems of Versed part us from our assumptions about reality, revealing the gaps and fissures in our emotional and linguistic constructs, showing us ourselves where we are most exposed. A reader's companion is available at http://versedreader.site.wesleyan.edu/

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819570918
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 08/01/2010
Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
Pages: 136
Sales rank: 1,287,741
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

RAE ARMANTROUT is a professor of writing and literature at the University of California, San Diego, and the author of ten books of poetry.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Versed


Results

1


Click here to vote on who's ripe for a makeover

or takeover

in this series pilot.

Votes are registered at the server and sent back

as results.

2

Click here to transform

oxidation into digestion.

From this point on,
it's a lattice of ends disguised as means:

the strangler fig,

the anteater.

3

I've developed the ability to revise what I'm waiting for

so that letter becomes dinner gradually

while the contrapuntal noddingof the Chinese elm leaves

redistributes ennui


Versed

The self-monitoring function of each cell
"writ large,"

personified —
a person.

* * * * * * * * *

The "Issues of the Day"
are mulled steadily by surrogates.

* * * * * * * * *

Metaphor forms a crust beneath which the crevasse of each experience.

* * *

Traversed by robotic surveyors.
* * *

Mother yells, "Good job!"
when he drops the stick,

"Good job!"
when he walks in her direction


Fetch

1


Was it a flaming mouse that burned Mares' house down or was it just the wind?

On Tuesday Mares and his nephew stood by the original version.

Is this plausible?

Fire Chief Chavez said Tuesday that he thought so.

2

Let's see

your itty-
bitten specificity fetish,

your mom's phantasmic what's-it held conspicuously under threat.

Day hoists its mesh of near approximations,

(its bright skein of pores.)

Eyes fetch thrown shadows


Address

The way my interest in their imaginary kiss

is secretly addressed to you.

* * *

Without intention

prongs of ivy mount the posts supporting the freeway.

It would be possible to say each leaf

circumscribes hope

or that each leaf,
fastidiously coming to one point,

suggests a fear of the unknown.

* * *

These glossy,
laced-up, high-heel boots

(each leaf)

addressed to you


Vehicles

Pairing matched fragments,
then pausing —

archly? —

Mozart creates a universe out of pleasantries.

"How is everything for you today?"

the hostess at the front desk asks.

* * *

If that (head-on car-crash)
had happened, we say,

all this would not have been —

like "having been"
were a lasting thing:

the small tree on the highway meridian

having been lit up for a moment now

by sun breaking through cloud

* * *

Look how we "attempted to express ourselves."
Every one of these words is wrong.

It wasn't us.
Or we made no real attempt.
Or there is no discernible difference between self and expression.

* * *

What was meant by "streamlining"
we might guess,

but what was meant by streamlining as value added to this

already bulky,
even bulbous,

baby-pink conveyance,

we can only ask


A Resemblance

As a word is mostly connotation,

matter is mostly aura?

Halo?

(The same loneliness that separates me

from what I call
"the world.")

* * *

Quiet, ragged skirt of dust

encircling a ceramic gourd.

* * *

Look-alikes.
"Are you happy now?"

* * *

Would I like a vicarious happiness?

Yes!

Though I suspect yours of being defective,

forced


Outer

Dolls as celebrities (Barbie);
celebrities as dolls.

I'm the one who can't know if the scraggly old woman putting a gallon of vodka in her shopping cart feels guilty, defiant, or even glamorous as she does so. She may imagine herself as an actress playing an alcoholic in a film.

Removal activates glamour?

To see yourself as if from the outside — though not as others see you.

Carried by light,
images remain

while sensation is so evanescent

as to be always beyond belief.

The outer world means State Farm Donuts Tae Kwando?
Thoughts as spent fuel rods.

Preceded and followed by statuesque shadows of cacti on a lawn.

Today could be described as a retired man humming tunelessly to himself.

When I ask what you're thinking, you say "about explaining to children the best way to build a Maypole."


Relations

"Head" and "Bring."

I remember the words.

"Bobble" and "Bauble,"

"Rosy" and "Lonely"

set off now.

What will you little chimes bring me?

Time flows because no set of proofs

can be complete.
Bring me the friendship

between solving and dissolving


Babel

"Let us go down and confuse their language

so we may distinguish the people from our thoughts."

* * *

Can it be true that the baby is afraid

his wish to gobble us up

has been realized already?

* * *

Hard to say since we've thrown our voice

into the future and the past


Operations

This child fights cancer with the help of her celebrity fan club,

says,
"Now I know how hard it is to be a movie star."

* * *

"Hey,
my avatar's not working!"

* * *

This small hawk on a wire above tangled flowers.

* * *

Speech, too, was thought to be inhabited by a god.

Then hunger invented light.


Help
Creased, globular,
shiny, baby

pumpkins on stalks upright in a vase.

Let amorphous

restlessness condense to objects like these

again.

* * *

A space
"inside"

can't bear to be un-

interrupted.

I mark it:
"I" "I" "I"

* * *

If this were a stutter of brittle reeds,

an evening glint fingering each

"at a time"

might help


Name Calling

Objects are silly.

Lonesome

as the word "Ow!"

is.

* * *

Could we grant them a quorum —

dense,

with the shiny glossolalia of the leaves,

the resilience of open-ended questions?

* * *

Bud-nipped.

What the pudendum attempts to pinch off,

tries repeatedly.

What comes to be called pleasure


Pleasure

A sleight-of-hand equilibrium

being produced as bees

pass one another,

a ticklish rumble shuttling between blooms.

I'd like to think I'm one,

no,
all of them.

* * *

This sense of my senses

being mine
is what passes life to life?

How distinguish one light from the next?

Only distinctions can
matter.

(Canned matter.)

* * *

Just made up of tuning fork ferns,

blackbird pipe-lettes:

little golden self-measuring extents


Guess

1


The jacaranda, for instance, is beautiful but not serious.

That much I can guess.

And that the view is softened by curtains.

That the present moment is an exception,

is the queen bee a hive serves,

or else an orphan.

2

So the jacaranda is foreign and extravagant.

It gestures in the distance.
Between there and here you ask

what game we should play next week.

So we'll be alive next week,

continuing what you may or may not

mean to be an impossible flirtation


Locality

1


"Is it nummy? Yeah, huh?"

2

Songs as empathy evacuation engines.

It's not that I wish to pledge slavish devotion as the singer seems to do;

it's not that I want to be the object of such attention —
but I'll listen to this song

again and again.

3

Where you put them —
did you, for instance,
those window bars reflected in sun glasses upside down between remotes?

4

Wires dip obligingly between blanched poles,
slightly askew.

Any statement I issue,
if particular enough,

will prove I was here


Wannabe

Impossibly teetering is one way to remain.

Half contemptuous, half ravished

by vampire wannabes maybe.

* * *

A two-lane highway between ghost-towns —

one of the cliches you love

the memory, not of events

but of continuity itself.

* * *

Who are you anyway?


Stretch

Lime green against dark foliage,
the Emerald Oil sign gleams alone.

Stars slingshot round the center at millions of miles per.

In rest home beds, patients hang on as if to love.

Moment to moment's stretched plausibility.

(Body beneath a wooden plank,
she's sucking her grandmother's cock.)

Left Behind

1


To reinvent anomalous figments.

Twisted and white, limbs strike poses.

One ballerina after another on point down the highway meridian —

eucalyptus

committed to attitudes just so

but still awash in their own equivocal leaf shadow.

I pass as if to pass were to think better of something.

2

Dreams unspool contexts

with an ersatz tongue-in-cheek

familiarity, conspicuously flimsy:

a singer intoning "Venice Boulevard"
on a store sound system late last night,

a crooner placing us perhaps among flight students —
reminiscing,

"when you're land-ing on Highway Fi-ive"


Amplification

Some think in the first days

Hunger and Lust arose separately and then paired up by chance

having only self-love in common —

and what is that?
Still, what a pair they've been!

* * *

Some think we can achieve escape velocity

if only we can make our thoughts bounce

harder and harder off the near walls —

the limits —
of what is known,

what is trite about these characters.

* * *

We have it on good authority

that we're dying to express this

one thousand times more or less precisely,

dying to practice


Bonding

On the television in an empty pharmacy,
the contestant whose guess is closest to retail squeals.

* * *

A want,
conceived as illusory

(rhetorical),
is said

to underlie the real,
underwrite matter.

* * *

A man tells a camera he prefers "lady-boys"
because they can't fake orgasm.

* * *

In the updraft,
the particulate glitz is beside itself.

* * *

Check-plus! I wait for my thought to reappear.

(I trust recognitions.)

* * *

Pathos of strangers' headlights tracing the curve at dusk

is inexplicable


Through

1


The intentions come previously.

Little apron leaves,

what are you covering up,

plump

and forgotten on a woody stalk?

Will itself,

unoccupied,
unowned

2
These dark tunnels into

and through the loving look.

Reaching both and neither

always makes me hot.

"Did you have fun playing with trains,

Phantom Stallion,

Rainbow Frog?"

Scumble

What if I were turned on by seemingly innocent words such as "scumble," "pinky," or "extrapolate?"

What if I maneuvered conversation in the hope that others would pronounce these words?

Perhaps the excitement would come from the way the other person touched them lightly and carelessly with his tongue.

What if "of" were such a hot button?

"Scumble of bushes."

What if there were a hidden pleasure in calling one thing by another's name?

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Versed"
by .
Copyright © 2009 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
VERSED
Results
Versed
Fetch
Address
Vehicles
A Resemblance
Outer
Relations
Babel
Operations
Help
Name Calling
Pleasure
Guess
Locality
Wannabe
Stretch
Left Behind
Amplification
Bonding
Through
Scumble
Worth While
Dilation
Inscription
Either Side
Equals
New Genres
Presto
Décor
New
Heaven
Lengths
Just
What We Mean
The Catch
Running
Later
Own
Birth Order
Together
On Your Way
Translation
DARK MATTER
Around
Dark Matter
Unbidden
Had
Simple
In Place
Music
Perfect
Whatever
Solution
Resounding
Like
Poem
Djinn
The Racket
Provenance
Previews
Missing Persons
The Line
Slip
Hey
Integer
Report
Left
Several
Concentrate
Minimum Sum
Lasting
Versions
The Light
Fade
Take-Out
Apartment
Remaining
Still
Hoop
Anchor
The Hole
Someone
Only
Thrown
Pass
Passage
Fact

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for Next Life: "Poetry that conveys the invention, the wit and the force of a mind that contests all assumptions."—New York Times

"Always smart, given to sardonic humor, and surprisingly down-to-earth"—Publishers Weekly

New York Times

Praise for Next Life: "Poetry that conveys the invention, the wit and the force of a mind that contests all assumptions."

Customer Reviews