Partly: New and Selected Poems, 2001–2015

Rae Armantrout. Wesleyan Univ., $28 (248p) ISBN 978-0-8195-7655-2
For the last half century, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Armantrout (Itself) has stood as a quiet figurehead of American experimental poetry, and this formidable collection offers a look at her recent progression and her signature, language-centered style. The overview begins with new poems before skipping back to poems from 2004’s Up to Speed, moving sequentially from there through her five latest books. Themes of time, the financial crisis, and cancer appear, and the new poems introduce a sense of world-weariness as Armantrout begins to look back: “I may want to lie still/ and think about my choices.” Stylistically, the poems are remarkably consistent, showing off well-honed characteristics: short lines, crisp divisions, and a commitment to destabilizing meaning through segmentation. “We’ve made camp/ in the glitch,” she writes, and her poems thrive on that jarring quality, with great gaps between points of reference, images, and connotations. Armantrout often writes as though beginning mid-sentence, leaving the reader to contextualize and construe. “The spray/ of all possible paths,” reads a couplet, immediately unsettled by “Define possible.” Words beget questions and more words in Armantrout’s haphazard world, so her work requires a little patience. But, as she writes, “Like God, I will leave// an arc/ of implication,” and it’s the implication that she explores—a stirring feeling of something illuminating, just out of reach. (Aug.)

This review has been corrected: an earlier version mistakenly stated the end-date in the title as 2005 rather than 2015.

Reviewed on: 07/18/2016
Release date: 08/01/2016
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