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Versedby Rae Armantrout
2010 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"In recent years, Armantrout's reputation has soared — she began in the '70s as an obscure, early practitioner of language poetry, and now her poems regularly appear in the New Yorker. Her new book comprises two sequences — 'Versed' and 'Dark Matter' — of loosely interlinked poems dealing with the prolific poet's usual subjects (the body, contemporary society, violence) as well as more personal explorations of illness and mortality, all relayed in Armantrout's concentrated, crystalline voice, with a predilection for skipping some steps along the way to sense. The first sequence, peppered with pop culture references and quoted speech, features silly yet surprisingly serious poems on topics like ''[b]reaking/ Anna Nicole news// as she buries/ her son.' ' In the playful 'Scumble,' the poet speculates as to 'What if I were turned on by seemingly innocent words/ such as... 'extrapolate?' ' The second section, 'Dark Matter,' is evasively intimate and occasionally, albeit characteristically, bleak, as Armantrout (Next Life) contemplates her own struggle with cancer 'with a shocked smile,/ while an undiscovered tumor/squats on her kidney.' In what may be moments of intense, sardonic honesty — 'Chuck and I are pleased/ to have found a spot/where my ashes can be scattered' — the poet poses metaphysical questions with open endings: jarring moments in which the stakes are suddenly, impossibly high." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
A double collection from one of the most brilliant poets of her generation
Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
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