#tbt Rae Armantrout, & Paul Muldoon, for the New Yorker

Join us on The New Yorker‘s Sound Cloud to enjoy a reading and interview with Rae Armantrout, conducted by Paul Muldoon. Armantrout recalls and reads a Susan Wheeler poem, from the The New Yorker archives. Then she reads a poem of her own, before discussing her work with Muldoon.


Wesleyan University Press will publish Armantrout’s next book, Itself, in February 2015. Today’s poem is from Armantrout’s 2004 collection, Up to Speed.


One’s a connoisseur of vacancies,

Loud silences
surrounding human artifacts:

Stucco hulls
of forgotten origin

that squat
over the sleepers

in rows
on raised platforms.

She calls her finds


One is ebullient,

shaving seconds,
navigating among refills.

She’s concerned with the rhythm
of her own sequence of events,

if such they can be called,

though these may be indistinguishable
from those in the lives of other people,

though the continuity which interests her
breaks up
the middle distance.


She finds the fly-leaves of her new notebook
have been pre-printed
in old-fashioned script–

phrases broken to suggest

as a site of faux urgency:

“this work since it’s commenced”

“cannot nor willnot stay”


Rae Armantrout is a professor of writing in the Literature Department at the University of California at San Diego, and the author of many books of poetry, including Money ShotVersedNext Life, and Veil: New and Selected Poems. She is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and many other awards. 


“The Fiddlehead’s” retrospective on Rae Armantrout

Fiddlehead Summer 2014The Fiddlehead recognized Wesleyan author Rae Armantrout in a retrospective found in their Summer 2014 issue (No. 260). You will find some new poems in the issue. Below is the introduction, by Ross Leckie. Wesleyan will release a new volume by Armantrout, Itself, in Spring 2015. 

From The Fiddlehead:

The Poetry of Rae Armantrout

What is the poetry of everyday life?  What does it look like?  Well, we might say, it looks like the work of a number of very fine poets written in prosaic free verse, using the language of the average person, and telling stories of the quotidian experience of family, relationships, illness, alcoholism, work, and so on.  The poetry of everyday life might look like all of these things, or it might look like the poetry of Rae Armantrout.

 Armantrout certainly gestures to daily life, and we could imagine a conventional free verse lyric ending with “Is it the beginning or end / of real love / when we pity a person // because, in him, / we see ourselves?”  You could open a collection of fiction with the quirky humour of Lorrie Moore and not be surprised to find a story opening with this sentence: “When she hugged him I wanted her to hug me too because, if she didn’t, I would have to wonder about that, whereas, before, I would have been happy with a friendly word and, after a slight hesitation, she did wrap her arms around me.”

The “Lorrie Moore” sentence is the first of three sections of Armantrout’s new poem “Membrane,” printed here, and it displays her sly wit and her ability to expose a moment of pathos. The first and third sections of the poem open themselves to the possibilities of narrative interpretation.  The second section, however, highlights the textuality of language and resists interpretation in the ways that identify Armantrout as a language poet.

Armantrout articulates across her career all of the concerns of language poetry: postmodern culture, self-reflexivity, the materiality of language, semiotics and deconstruction, disruption of the symbolic order, and an oppositional politics inherent in the interruption of the language of seamless ideological discourse.

The second section of “Membrane” is comprised of four indented words, each on a line of its own: “ion / selection / channel / membrane.”  Ion.  An electrically charged particle.  The emotionally “charged” situation that attempts to resolve in a hug?  Membrane.  A separating layer.  But also a pliable material that is selectively permeable, filtering wanted from unwanted particles.  Is the membrane the skin of the body that, in a hug, both separates and filters emotional ions?

The concluding section begins “Put simply,” as if promising an explication of the second section.  We learn that Eve’s “fall” from paradise is in her snake-bitten recognition that people have intentions they don’t explain, the meaning of which you must intuit.  This leads her to compare herself to others, and there is no end to comparison, fraught with insecurities, anxieties, and fears.

The second section of this poem, an irritant to any reader looking for a narrative of meaning in this poem, is crucial.  It resists any simplistic “lesson” on the perils of comparison.  A world without comparison would exist only in paradise, and it would be without language, as language is a function of relation and comparison.  Language is a membrane that disguises its intentions and is a site of endless anxiety.

Another new poem, “Our World,” announces a dilemma in the poetics of everyday life.  Conventional lyric seems worn out, merely an endless worrying of the stories of our lives.  The poem asks, “We’d been tweaking / the poignancy // of small plots / for how long?”  Small plots are little narratives or individual graves, which are one and the same.

And so we moved on.  “We needed space, // perceived distance / between thing and statement, // as if irony, / inflated, / might be a whole new globe.”  Implied here is that irony upon irony upon irony is also a dead end.  Our world, though, has galloped on ahead of us.  The “transport of poetry” is a unique yellow sedan or a minivan with the decals of two skulls.  Family van as hearse.  “In our world” Cinderella’s gown is made by animated flying scissors in a fantasy of romance.  It is “class-system kitsch,” as she calls it in the poem “Nothing.”  And all these things are the self-assembling virions freshly released.  Inflated irony has gone viral!

I love both the wry and the outrageous humour of Rae Armantrout.  “Instruction” begins “I’m holding a baby / who was born yesterday” (everyone else wasn’t born yesterday).  Later she says of the baby: “I point to her mouth / and say, ‘Mouth, mouth.’ // She mouths it back; she’s so precocious!”  The poem concludes in London with “two tour bus routes // marked out: / one red, one blue.”  For some reason it seems fitting to me to interpolate this with Robert Frost: two tour bus routes diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one most traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

RAE ARMANTROUT is a professor of writing at the Literature Department at the University of California at San Diego, and the author of ten books of poetry, including Money Shot, Versed, Next Lifeand Veil: New and Selected Poems. Her forthcoming collection, Itself, will be released from Wesleyan University Press in spring 2015. She is the winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award.

Conversations with country music’s legendary producers

We are pleased to announce a new book by Michael Jarrett, Producing Country: The Inside Story of the Great Recordings.


 Jarrett - Producing R-300-3

“…you would look long and hard to find a more readable contribution to the cultural studies, or country music, canon.” Tim Holmes, Record Collector magazine

Musicians make music. Producers make records. In the early days of recorded music, the producer was the “artists-and-repertoire man,” or A&R man, for short. A powerful figure, the A&R man chose both who would record and what they would record. His decisions profoundly shaped our musical tastes. Don Law found country bluesman Robert Johnson and honky-tonk crooner Lefty Frizzell. Cowboy Jack Clement took the initiative to record Jerry Lee Lewis (while his boss, Sam Phillips, was away on business). When Ray Charles said he wanted to record a country-and-western album, Sid Feller gathered songs for his consideration. The author’s extensive interviews with music makers offer the fullest account ever of the producer’s role in creating country music. In its focus on recordings and record production, Producing Country tells the story of country music from its early years to the present day through hit records by Hank Williams, George Jones, Patsy Cline, Buck Owens, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and more.


gallery 01

Chet Atkins and engineer Bill Porter in RCA Studio B, Nashville. Courtesy of Merle Atkins Russell, the Chet Atkins Estate

Producing Country includes original interviews with producers Chet Atkins, Pete Anderson, Jimmy Bowen, Bobby Braddock, Harold Bradley, Tony Brown, Blake Chancey, Jack Clement, Scott Hendricks, Bob Johnston, Jerry Kennedy, Blake Mevis, Ken Nelson, Jim Ed Norman, Allen Reynolds, Jim Rooney, James Stroud, Paul Worley, and Reggie Young, among others.

For more details, click here.

Also available as an ebook—check with your favorite ebook retailer.

#tbt: Rachel Zucker, “Letter [Persephone to Hades]”

This week’s Throwback Thursday selection is Rachel Zucker’s “Letter [Persephone to Hades]” from Eating in the Underworld (2003), a re-imagining of Greek myth. Both spare and lyrical, the poems are written as entries in Persephone’s diary and as letters between Persephone, Demeter, and Hades. Zucker also features in a recent New Yorker article by Dan Chiasson.


zucker blog




A city grows up to house millions;
cherished fields destroyed willingly.

The surface is carved over and over in names.

Some call it love, some obligation—
though neither true, we pile up and prosper.

Won, like a trinket, I obey and am nothing.
Hear?—she calls me:

from other rooms, across deep rivers,
complains I’m never where she left me.

She forbids me meadows, untilled prairies for fear
I’ll find the lower whose hundred stems grow from one root.

So I keep to the craggy enclaves, outside watchfulness:
mountains, shores, places which sustain no vegetation—



RACHEL ZUCKER is the author of nine books, most recently, a memoir, MOTHERs, and a double collection of prose and poetry, The Pedestrians. Her book Museum of Accidents was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 2013. Zucker teaches poetry at New York University.

#tbt: Peter Gizzi, “The ethics of dust”

This week’s TBT selection is Peter Gizzi’s “The Ethics of Dust” from Some Values of Landscape and Weather (2003). You can find a review of Peter’s latest book, In Defense of Nothing, in the July/August issue of Boston Review.


gizzi TBT


The ethics of dust

to think I have written this poem before
to think to say the reason I came here
sound of yard bird, clinking lightbulb

to think the world has lasted this long

what were we hoping to say:
ailanthus, rosebud, gable
saturnalia, moonglow, remember

I am on the other side now
have crossed the river, have
through much difficulty
come to you from a dormer closet
head full of dark
my voice in what you say

at this moment you say
wind through stone, through teeth
through falling sheets, flapping geese

 every thing is poetry here

a vast blank fronting the eyes
more sparkling than sun on brick
October’s crossing-guard orange



PETER GIZZI is the author of Threshold Songs, The OuternationaleSome Values of Landscape and WeatherArtificial Heart, Periplumand In Defense of Nothing. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Gerald Vizenor on the road in support of Blue Ravens and Favor of Crows

Gerald Vizenor, arguably the most prolific Native American author of our time, is on the road sharing his knowledge with audiences far and wide. After events in New York City and Minneapolis, he is gearing up for a series of readings and lectures that will take him to several European destinations and Japan in support of his new books: Blue Ravens, a groundbreaking, fact based novel of Anishinaabe soldiers in WWI,  and Favor of Crows: New and Collected Haiku


First he will visit King’s College of London, where he will lead a masterclass on Native American Indians in the First World War and give a public lecture on Literary Transmotion: Native American Indian Literature of Survivance. Then, Gerald will be off to Paris, reading from his new books at Galerie Orenda, where artwork by Tony Abeyta (Navajo) and Brenda Kingery (Chickasaw) is on display in an exhibit titled “Rhythms and Colors of Native America.” The next stop is the University of Vienna, for the conference “Native North American Survivance and Memory: Celebrating Gerald Vizenor.”  This is the first gathering of its kind, offering a systematic look at Vizenor’s poetic, fictional, theoretical, and juridical writing.  Finally, Gerald will spend time in Japan, presenting his work in a series of lectures for audiences at Keio University and at the American Center Japan. We thank Kinokuniya Bookstore for providing books at these events. 

Stay tuned…when Gerald returns to the United States he will make some stops in New England. Those details are forthcoming. 


Photographs from Vizenor’s visit to NMAI in New York City. Clockwise from top left: in Central Park; with esteemed artist Robert Houle, who provided artwork for Favor of Crows; signing copies of his books after the panel discussion; with his wife, Laura Hall.  Photographs courtesy of Laura Hall.

For Mothers Day: Two Connecticut Women

Happy Mothers Day! Wesleyan University Press is celebrating two new books about fascinating Connecticut women.


In her book Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker, Susan Campbell tells the story of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s younger half-sister. Isabella Beecher Hooker was a curiously modern nineteenth-century figure. She was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement, and a mover and shaker in Hartford’s storied Nook Farm neighborhood and salon. Tempest-Tossed is a breezily written, fast paced biography that reveals Isabella’s more unusual traits. She was an ardent Spiritualist who could be off-putting, perplexing, and tenacious, yet wonderfully charming. Many of her contemporaries found her unapproachable and difficult to maintain a relationship with. Her “wild streak” was especially unfavorable in the eyes of Hartford society at the time, which valued restraint and duty. Pulitzer Prize winner Susan Campbell, also the author of Dating Jesus: Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl, brings her own unique blend of empathy and unbridled humor to the unique story of this unorthodox woman. Tempest-Tossed reveals Isabella’s evolution from Calvinist daughter, wife, and mother, to one of the most influential players in the movement for women’s suffrage. This long overdue story has found its perfect storyteller in Campbell, who captures the liveliness and spirit of this daring individual.

You can read a new short piece by Susan Campbell, “Can Mothers Get it Right? Experts Disagree,” (in which another Beecher sister, Catherine, is discussed) in this Sunday’s edition of the Hartford Courant.

Hot off the press is Connecticut state senator Donald E. Williams’s Prudence Crandall: The Fight for Equality in the 1830s, Dred Scott, and Brown v. Board of Education. Crandall was a Connecticut school teacher dedicated to the education of African-American girls–a goal unheard of in the racist landscape of the United States of the 1830s. She ignited a firestorm of controversy when she opened Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color, in Canterbury. Residents of the town refused to supply Crandall with the goods necessary to run her school, even going so far as to poison the school’s well water. She was ridiculed and arrested, but only closed her school upon the realization that the safety of her girls was at risk. Striking a balance between careful research and lively storytelling, Williams tells of Crandall’s push for justice and how her struggles helped to set legal precedent. He explains the relationship between three trials brought against Crandall, for her violation of Connecticut’s “Black Law,” and other notable legal cases: the Amistad case, the Dred Scott decision, and Brown v. Board of Education. Williams also discusses how Crandall v. State impacts our modern interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Happy mother’s day, and happy reading!

Come home Charley Patton” reviewed in DCA Newsletter

Visit the UPNE Book PageRalph Lemon’s Come home Charley Patton was reviewed by Judith Ingber, for the Dance Critics Association newsletter. Ingber recommends “this most rewarding and unorthodox book.”

We thank Dance Critics Association [] for allowing us to post this review.

From the review essay:

“If you like dance diaries in print you’ll especially love Ralph Lemon’s latest book Come home Charley Patton (2013). Years ago I was thrilled to delve into Martha Graham’s diary The Notebooks of Martha Graham when it was published (NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973) and likewise, later, with Merce Cunningham’s Changes: Notes on Choreography (NY: Something Else Press, 1968). I assume a dancer’s diary will be snatches of this and that, providing illuminations both visual and articulate about the choreographer’s process and works. That’s true only in part for Ralph’s new book. Note I’ll call him Ralph in the following comments–how could I call him Lemon when he grew up in Minneapolis like I did (though admittedly some years later)? I remember him dancing in the Nancy Hauser Dance Company and then seeing his works for the New Dance Ensemble including “Boundary Water” (1984), “Waiting for Carnival” (1986) and a wonderful solo for dancer Luc Ball?

Ralph’s book is much more than diary entries about his dances—here we get historical context for his stories, images he has photographed and his own sketches (some in black and white and others in color). It’s published by Wesleyan University Press, the famous dance press, and someone there loves him because they’ve also published his previous books (Persephone, his 1996 dance ode to spring which is a small book collaboration with photographer Philip Trager; Geography: art/race/exile, published in 2000; and Tree in 2004). Until one reads this latest book, his role as choreographer/dancer seemed most important. But here one sees his many facets—story teller, researcher, painter, and photographer.

For me, Martin Luther King Day each year calls up a spring day in 1968, walking up New York City’s Broadway near Columbia University, with radio news blaring onto the street from countless shops and cars that King had been shot. This year the inauguration of Barak Hussein Obama as America’s 57th president fell on Martin Luther King Day. I spent the day reading Ralph’s book with time out for watching the televised inauguration ceremonies. In a way, it struck me that his book is an ode to Martin Luther King, for Ralph interweaves the Civil Rights Movement with his own and his family stories.”

Read the full review (.pdf)

News from Tan Lin

Tan Lin, author of Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking, wrote the other day, with much good news. Here’s an update on his imaginative projects.


The poet, novelist, and filmmaker, has two new works, Bibliograpic Sound Track and Ph.D Sounds, that explore the role of reading in various communication platforms. You can view the projects here. The works were commissioned by Artists Space. Lin also presented his work at the Walker Art Center. In both works, Lin assembled pieces from various sources such as SMS, IM chats, video game walk-throughs, Tweets, Tumblr entries, PowerPoint bullet points, photographic slides, the overhead transparency, the text box, the couplet, the book page, the fainting film titling sequence, etc., encompassing various platform specific reading or communications functions. The Powerpoint pieces bracket reading in a larger perceptual and social field that include smells and sounds. Lin reminds people that reading is a kind of all-over experience, but not be confined to a particular object (book) or social platform. To hear more about the two works, check out Lin’s talk at the Walker Art Center, where he discussed the commissioning of his works, and implementation on web based and installation-specific site.

Over the past 15 years, Lin has been interested in creating an “ambient” mode of literature that engages a set of practices including sampling, communal production, and social networks. He continues to embrace new modalities of reading such as Skype, email, Google Drive, etc. and explore their implications for the future literature.

Lin’s work is included in Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art, an exhibit up at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver from June 22 through September 2, 2013. More information can be found here:

You can check out Lin’s forthcoming book, An Anootated Index to the Photographic Work of Diana Kinsley here, and read an interview, with Angela Genusa, in Rhizome, here.

Lin’s work has been included in two exciting new anthologies as well: Kindergarde: Avant-garde Poems, Plays, Stories, and Songs for Children and Sonnets: Translating and Rewriting Shakespeare.