Rae Armantrout, Author . Wesleyan Univ. $13.95 (80p) ISBN 978-0-8195-6698-0

Following her breakout Veil: New and Selected Poems (2001), Armantrout here consolidates her place as a preeminent poet of economy—in the senses of aesthetic compression, and of tracking cash's effect on brain and culture. In 42 poems of no more than two pages, carved lines progress seamlessly into stanzas spare to the point of parsimony, a rebuke of excess that expresses itself in a Roman comedy of winks and nudges: " 'Why do Princesses/ Caroline and Stephanie// always marry / the wrong men?' " The poems relentlessly quote the celebrity gossip, Madison Avenue-like inanities and cable news hype to which much "ordinary" conversation has been reduced, focusing in on the barbiturate effects of repetitions and banal generalizations that preclude real exchange: " 'I don't need to see the rest' I say./ 'I can assume redundancy.' " Yet while she is certainly a major satirist, Armantrout cannot be reduced to a set of zingers. The opening syllogism of "Upper World" ("If sadness/ is akin to patience,// we're back!") reveals the real despair produced by empty language, and proceeds to an understated litany of loss: "No more wishes.// No more bungalows/ behind car-washes/ painted the color of/ swimming pools." Despite the wryness, the speaker of these poems is not so much pointing fingers as trying to point out what it is that makes people adopt language like " 'Don't let the car fool you.// My treasure/ is in heaven.' " In doing so, these cryptic, probing poems are a national treasure, bringing readers up to speed on the "reiterative/ noodling/ in absentia" in which lives are expended. (Feb. 3)

Reviewed on: 12/22/2003
Release date: 02/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 80 pages - 978-0-8195-6697-3
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