with Rae Armantrout

This summer has me putting in office hours on campus, spending the mornings thinking through the syllabi & co. for the courses I’ll be teaching in the fall. I then, to varying success, allow myself time in the afternoon to work on writing projects, including a nonfiction essay collection, a book of poems in Spanish, and new poetry collection.

Could be the range of the projects, how each pushes me to different thresholds of memory, presence, and ability, but I’ve been experiencing pockets of doubt, not of the projects exactly (but maybe), more of my sense of what it means to articulate. If language is a wooden dock leading across water, then this doubt is the appearance of missing wood planks here and there, which make me falter, slow, change my gait. I’m sure it’s all part of another season in my understanding of writing and its place in my life, but damn if it ain’t awkward.

 4904054_ae891eb9I feel some of this awkwardness, at least in spirit, is evoked in Rae Armantrout’s poem “With” (below). While the poem doesn’t contemplate some odd metaphor of water and wood planks, its three sections stir up some dust around words and the meaning-making process. The first section brings attention to action, only to end on being “still.” This stillness is furthered in the second section by the mention of the act of writing. Yet, the dichotomy of action and stillness remains in the apt use of “or” and how it splits what the stanza presents into indecision. The third section departs in another direction, focusing on the word “with” and its inexactness. Armantrout’s sensitivity to language creates a moment that leaves the poem open-ended in a way that feels, in itself and the reading experience, like closure.

With – Rae Armantrout

It’s well
that things should stir
around me
like this
patina of shadow,
flicker, whisper,
so that
I can be still.


I write things down
to show others
or to show myself
that I am not alone with
my experience.


is the word that
comes to mind,
but it’s not
the right word here.


from Money Shot (Wesleyan University Press)

* personal seasons via rae armantrout

* Corspoot Christi Bay *
* Corspoot Christi Bay *

Above is a photo of our beluga friend, Spoot, who came along with us on our trip to Texas at the end of last month. This image came to mind as I reflect on all that’s happened this past month. And what happened? I started teaching a new class, begun reading into the a hundred and twenty plus books I need to get through for my exams year, worked out a book review and a few reflective essays as well as wrapped up a new manuscript. I have also done much this month alongside Diane Kistner of FutureCycle Press in term of preparing for the release of my newest chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance, which will be coming out next month (more news on this shortly).

All this activity has been echoed in my early mornings by birds. Tons of them. By the sound of it from our nook in Cincinnati, the birds are up to more than I am. This week’s poem – “Errands” by Rae Armantrout – charmed me for the action (physical/metaphorical) and danger evoked in short, clipped lines. There’s a nuance in each short section, a sort of lyric suggestiveness that moves me. The birds in the last section, I’ve always pictured as yellow. These days, we spot goldfinches here and there, busy with their “To, To.”

* to wit, to whit *
* to wit, to whit *

Errands – Rae Armantrout

The old

is newly cloaked
in purpose.

There’s a jumble
of hair and teeth

under the bedclothes
in the forest.

“The better to eat you with,”
it says

and nibbles us
until we laugh.


An ax-man
comes to help.


“To, To,”
birds cheep

to greet
whatever has come up.

“To, To.”


Happy to-ing!


* logically legit with rae armantrout

Revisiting the work of Rae Armantrout this week, I realize that some poems hit you with the edges of what they could be saying as they are being said. Armantrout’s work for me always gives me just enough to build a singular impression.

In the poem below, the third section’s image of leaves is baffling in its clarity. The line “Leaf shadows on pavement” is a clipped, definite image, but the stanza that follows brings that image to life through sound and meaning, reaching away from imagery and yet evoking the image nonetheless.

Such things shouldn’t be possible, says the logical part of my brain, but there it is – logically legit.

* leaf good enough alone  *
* leaf good enough alone *

Answer – Rae Armantrout *

a moment of stillness,
demanding an answer.

When does a moment end?


Starbucks prayer;
“Make morning good again.”


Leaf shadows on pavement:

word meaning to slide
to absentmindedly caress.


For I so loved the world

that I set up
my only son

to be arrested.


Happy arresting!


* from Rae Armantrout’s collection, Money Shot.