Next Life

Rae Armantrout, Author . Wesleyan Univ. $22.95 (78p) ISBN 978-0-8195-6820-5

Once associated with the controversial, difficult 1970s and '80s group called Language Poets, Armantrout has more recently emerged into sustained critical acclaim: this ninth book (her second since the 2003 new and selected Veil ) should see a breakthrough into wider attention. Armantrout's topics have not changed: emotional and philosophical skepticism; mysterious and haunting dreams—"the way sleep scrambles/ life's detritus"; the meanings and betrayals of words; and the frustrations and difficulties of communication in an all-too-consumerist culture. Nor have her instantly recognizable techniques altered much: short-lined, witty, taciturn stanzas ask why "Everything sparkles and/ then doesn't," or explore—in a poem that also describes the film Toy Story —the "gap/ ...where the soul/ was thought to live." Focused on small units—syllables, glimpses, ideas—the poems remind us how hard it is to even try to understand things for ourselves, how we can fight to resist the temptation to see society as it wants to be seen. Always smart, given to a sardonic humor, and surprisingly down-to-earth, Armantrout may confound readers who seek long, detailed stories or who want poems that give them clear hopes. Now that American popular culture accommodates so much disjunction, self-reference and irony, this could be the year when more readers discover Armantrout, too. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/18/2006
Release date: 02/01/2007
Paperback - 78 pages - 978-0-8195-6821-2
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