Rae Armantrout

Laboratories of rhetoric

On Rae Armantrout's 'Just Saying'

Rae Armantrout’s 2013 book Just Saying, a phrase that calls into question the veracity of what we say, think, and feel to be the case, or a phrase used to offload the force of an insult, suggests a motif of our inability or refusal to render our systems of thinking and believing in convincing terms. To be sure, the poems are varied in their address, circling around domestic concerns, mortality, social codes, product placement, forms of transactions, and systems of belief.

Deep descent (PoemTalk #81)

Fanny Howe, 'The Descent' & 'The Source'

Photo by Ivy Ashe.


Laynie Browne, Rae Armantrout, and Kerry Sherin Wright joined Al Filreis at the Kelly Writers House to discuss two short poems by Fanny Howe, “The Descent” and “The Source.” These are, respectively, the first and last poems in a series called “The Descent,” published together with other series in a book titled Gone (California, 2003).


Collage I made of the The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, Figure 88 in the b
Collage I made of the The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, Figure 88 in the book, and QED Rules (courtesy of wikipedia).

In Richard P. Feynman’s book, A Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Princeton University Press, 1985), collecting his lectures on quantum electrodynamics, an agreement between quantum mechanics and relativity is attempted by describing interactions between light (photons) and matter (electrons), which are thought to travel to and from anywhere in the universe at any time. Like other quantum field theories of physics such as string theory, quantum electrodynamics proposes that spacetime cannot be defined by the Newtonian, Euclidian, and Aristotelian laws that once conceived of time as though it was an arrow moving through a distinct past, present, and future. Space is no longer conceived of as though its points could be connected by lines that do not exist in the natural world. A Strange Theory of Light and Matter is one of the foundational texts assigned in Rae Armantrout and Brian Keating’s breakthrough course, Poetry for Physicists, currently underway at the University of California at San Diego.

First reading of Rae Armantrout's 'Spin' (4)

David Caplan

David Caplan’s first reading of Rae Armantrout’s poem “Spin” is the fourth of five we will publish in this new series. Others by Jennifer Ashton, Katie Price, and Dee Morris are available at the First Readings series page. The next set of first readings will describe encounters with NourbeSe Philips’s Zong #6. — Brian Reed, Craig Dworkin, and Al Filreis

* * *

When first reading a poem, I focus on particularly evocative or puzzling moments — a phrase or two, some technical gestures, a flourish, a stylistic oddity, an apparent redundancy. I am searching for points of orientation and disorientation. I also often consider the poem’s structure; I want to know how it organizes language. My questions are rudimentary. Like Auden, I ask of the poem, “How does it work?”[1]

First reading of Rae Armantrout's 'Spin' (3)

Dee Morris

Dee Morris’s short essay on Rae Armantrout’s “Spin” is the third of five first readings of that poem we will publish in this new series. Jennifer Ashton’s was the first, Katie Price’s the second. The series page can be found here. — Brian Reed, Craig Dworkin, and Al Filreis

First reading of Rae Armantrout's 'Spin' (2)

Katie Price

Katie Price’s short essay on Rae Armantrout’s “Spin” is the second of five first readings of that poem we will publish in this new series. Jennifer Ashton’s was the first. The series page can be found here. — Brian Reed, Craig Dworkin, and Al Filreis

First reading of Rae Armantrout's 'Spin' (1)

Jennifer Ashton

Jennifer Ashton, Rae Armantrout

We are pleased to publish the first of five first readings of Rae Armantrout’s poem “Spin,” collected in Money Shot (Wesleyan, 2011). The text of the poem appears below. It happens that Armantrout’s PennSound page includes a recording of her performing the poem: here is that recording. Jennifer Ashton teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the author of From Modernism to Postmodernism: American Poetry and Theory in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, 2005) and edited The Cambridge Companion to American Poetry since 1945 (Cambridge, 2013). Her most recent article, “Poetry and the Price of Milk,” on the politics of contemporary poetry, can be found on nonsite.org, where she is a founding member of the board. She is currently at work on a new book, “Labor and the Lyric.” — Brian Reed, Craig Dworkin, and Al Filreis

Girl head mostly eyes (PoemTalk #67)

Catherine Wagner, 'This Is a Fucking Poem'


Rae Armantrout, Laura Elrick, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis joined PoemTalk’s producer and host Al Filreis to talk about Catherine Wagner’s “This Is a Fucking Poem.” The text of the poem is most readily available in Wagner’s book My New Job (Fence Books, 2011). It was previously collected in a chapbook, Hole in the Ground, published by Slack Buddha Press of Oxford, Ohio, in 2008 (5 1/2" x 8 1/2", 28 pages). The Hole in the Ground poems form a sequence, even beginning with a poem setting out “The Argument.”

'Miettes of Pam' (or … Dis-INTER)

"Dear Book, you were never a book..." (Michael Palmer, from Baudelaire Series)

A couple of weeks ago, I was translating a poem-text coaxed out of Montréal poet Steve Savage, for the San Francisco based journal Eleven Eleven (if they like it, or for someone else if they don’t!). I knew on receiving “Miettes de Pam” that Steve had deftly slipped me a bit of, or an arrangement of, part of his own translation from English into French of NY poet Mina Pam Dick’s (who is also Traver Pam Dick and others) Delinquent. In effect, I was going to translate Steve’s translation of Pam into English as Steve’s French poem. So I looked at it as Steve’s poem. He, after all, wrote all the words before my eyes! I didn’t take Delinquent off the shelf beside me but accepted Steve’s delinquency as emblematic of Pam’s shape-shifting. So I translated, creating a work in my words in English, a faithful—but commented—translation of Steve’s words in French which started as a translation of Pam’s.

Steve said when he read my translation, “Bits of Pam”: I see you, Erín, with Pam lurking behind you! Mina Pam Dick was of course contacted too, and delinquently allows my perverse versions of Steve’s translation to lurk in front of her, as she lurks behind.

All in all, it was a delight with three laughters, one of those signal gestures that passes between the USA and Quebec, between English and French and back again at times. Poetry changes languages among friends and people who admire each other’s work.

Armantrout on Dickinson

Rae Armantrout reads and briefly discusses Emily Dickinson’s “My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun”: MP3.

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