Rae Armantrout, Author . Wesleyan $22.95 (121p) ISBN 978-0-8195-6879-3

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. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/22/2008
Release date: 02/01/2009
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