cover image Conjure


Rae Armantrout. Wesleyan Univ., $15.95 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-0-8195-7997-3

Pulitzer Prize winner Armantrout (Wobble) offers a glimpse into her visionary inner world in her stunning 16th collection. Using language that is deceptively unadorned, Armantrout elevates the simple to the sublime. Her lines and stanzas are short, and statements like “A thing// must be recognizable/ in order to be/ a thing” reveal layers of meaning. Yet as intellectually penetrating as Armantrout can be, well-placed witticism and funny non sequiturs abound, invoking, for instance, “a Harpo Marx wig/ of virtual/ adjectives.” Romantic attachment is given a surrealist treatment in “My Love,” which ends with the evocative suggestion: “Let our eyelids/ lie flat// and spread/ like lily pads// beside themselves/ on a murky pond.” In veiled allegorical references, Armantrout ventures into the political, as in “Where Will You Spend Eternity,” in which she posits a choice between a God that could perform miracles but chooses not to, and the devil: “We’re riveted/ by the Hell Show.// The devil plays a huckster. What will he come out with next?// Demons banished for dramatic effect/ are brought back to lobby// for poisoning children.” Armantrout’s verse is precise, pliant, even playful, which explains why she’s both popular and critically respected. This deeply insightful collection has broad appeal. (Oct.)