cover image Finalists


Rae Armantrout. Wesleyan Univ., $35 (192p) ISBN 978-0-8195-8067-2

Armantrout (Conjure) returns with a lovely exercise in surprise. These sparse but searing poems leap from one mode to another, what Armantrout describes in “How to Disappear” as “swinging restlessly/ between the appearance of spontaneity/ and the appearance of serious thought.” In tracing the mind’s twisting and turning movements, her imagination is on full display, as when she imagines “St. Peter/ as a special concierge/ or a supercomputer/ listening.” Armantrout does not shy away from critiquing systems of abuse that bolster American life, especially capitalism: “By naming its vape flavor/ ‘Unicorn Poop,’/ Drip Star/ parodies marketing,/ thus appealing/ to children.” However, the collection resists imparting easy lessons, above all else celebrating the mind, its horrors and respites, its wanderings, and its potential to connect seemingly incongruous things out of “eternity’s hodgepodge.” She posits: “Since mind/ is the gape/ of surprise/ propped open,/ we can stop/ and think.” This striking, playful collection, which encourages readers to recognize their own capacity to astound themselves, celebrates the unexpected in times of crisis. (Mar.)