Rae Armantrout receives NBCC Award

Rae Armantrout’s Versed has received the National Book Critics Circle Award in the Poetry category.

James Marcus discusses poetry finalist Rae Armantrout’s Versed (Wesleyan University Press)

For much of her lengthy career, Rae Armantrout has cocked a skeptical eye at the American language—as if it needed a background check and a good body frisk. It wasn’t the music of words that aroused her suspicions. It was their capacity to sneak in bad faith and political flab under the radar. And yet Armantrout’s poems, with their tendency, as she has said, to “focus on the interventions of capitalism into consciousness,” have nothing of the ideological hall monitor about them. They are instead playful, poignant, and metaphysically alert—never more so than in Versed, her tenth collection.

Here as elsewhere, she has a fondness for the snub-nosed, snapped-off line bequeathed to American poetry by William Carlos Williams. Her attitude to the sort of humble objects that prompted Williams’s famous credo (“No ideas but in things”) is a little more complicated. She begins “Name Calling” with a tongue-in-cheek denunciation: “Objects are silly. / Lonesome / as the word ‘Ow!’ / is.” And yet in the next stanza, she seems more than willing to pay them mind:

Could we grant them
a quorum—


with the shiny
of the leaves,

the resilience
of open-ended

She is similarly ambivalent about the very idea of metaphor. On one hand, it strikes her as an endless series of bogus equivalencies. In “Equals,” such representations seem downright sinister: “One lizard / jammed headfirst / down the throat / of a second.” In “Integer,” Armantrout is even more straightforward: “Metaphor / is ritual sacrifice. / It kills the look-alike.” Yet her own poems are constructed out of marvelous (if strictly rationed) bits of figurative language, and she knows we are more or less stuck with the “mesh / of near / approximations.” In “Scumble,” a witty riff on the arbitrary relationship of words to the things they represent, she asks:

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

Oh, but there is. Doubters need only immerse themselves in Versed, whose vigilant, often beautiful poems seem to reset the reader’s mental instrumentation—what Armantrout calls the “whirligig / of attention, / the figuring and / reconfiguring / of charges / among orbits / (obits) / that has taken forever.”

Rae Armantrout poem in Washington Post

Poet’s Choice: “Money Talks” by Rae Armantrout

Poet’s Choice: “Money Talks” by Rae Armantrout

I wrote “Money Talks” in the fall of 2008 when we were hearing that the banks that had grown “too big to fail” were about to fail unless our representatives voted to give them huge subsidies. The poem really got started when I was thumbing through Vogue magazine and saw that “bondage and safari looks” were being touted that season. I thought those were some pretty interesting get-ups for the wealthy to wear as the middle class is driven towards bankruptcy. I began to imagine a personified Money sporting such styles. If you were a CEO, it might have been a good time to go on safari. Safari outfits are usually made of camouflage cloth. You might want to escape from view. On the other hand, bondage themed clothing might suggest that Money was a helpless victim, unable to help itself (or us). This vision of Money’s ensembles concludes the first section. When I’d written the first part, the poem still didn’t feel quite finished to me, so I let it sit for awhile. Then, not too much later, I was driving in Oakland, and I saw a billboard advertising a casino. I believe it showed an image of a roulette wheel. The only words on the billboard were the casino’s name and the command, “Shut up and play!” I imagined my personified Money saying this when it was tired of lying low and being coy. Stop complaining, Money says, and get back in the endless game. You may lose your house, but the House always wins.

Money Talks


Money is talking
to itself again

in this season’s
and safari look,

its closeout camouflage.

Hit the refresh button
and this is what you get,

money pretending
that its hands are tied.


On a billboard by the 880,

money admonishes,
“Shut up and play.”

Martha Hill reviewed in Dance Teacher magazine

Martha Hill and the Making of American Dance, by Janet Mansfield Soares,  was reviewed in the February issue of Dance Teacher magazine.

“In a nutshell: A lively portrait of Martha Hill’s formative role in modern dance in the United States. Martha Hill’s story as a catalyst in the development of American contemporary dance is often overshadowed by the likes of Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey. But author Janet Mansfield Soares does justice to the often unsung heroine by shedding light on her struggles and dedication to turning the artform into a serious area of study.”

­­–Dance Teacher, February 2010

Announcing Support from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving

Wesleyan University Press received a $50,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, to support publication of five books in 2010, as part of a new series.

The grant includes fuding for four distinct types of poetry book, including second books and translations, and for a book in any genre by a Connecticut author. Together the books will be known as the “The Driftless Series.” Driftless books for 2010 will include: Exposition Park by Roberto Tejada, Rococo and Other Worlds by Afzal Ahmed Syed, translated by Musharraf Farooqi, Elegguas by Kamau Brathwaite, A Spicing of Birds: Poems for Birders by Emily Dickinson, selected and introduced by Josephine Miles Schuman and Joanna Bailey Hodgman and Balasaraswati: Her Art and Life by Douglas M. Knight, Jr.

The Driftless Series is funded by the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving