Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The NBCC - Rae Armantrout

Rae Armantrout reading from Next Life, 9/20/07

The NBCC Poetry finalist list is out, and, as usual, it’s the most interesting of the big finalist lists, which was hard to do this year, as the National Book Awards list was also very interesting. Anyway, you’ve seen it already, I’m sure, but it includes Rae Armantrout, Louise Glück, D.A. Powell, Rachel Zucker, and Eleanor Ross Taylor. I read four of the five books, and really liked three of them. I’ll let you guess which three.

To celebrate the list, and just because I stumbled across it today (as it was linked from Silliman’s blog), here’s a snip of Rae Armantrout interviewed by Chicago Maroon:

http://www.chicagomaroon.com/2010/1/21/armantrout-balances-poetic-theory-with-gaga

CM: In your style of poetics—Cheshire Poetics, to use your term—you cultivate a system of expression that is both playful and complex, in which the unspoken implications of the words do just as much to unify the piece as the actual words on the page. What do you feel are the capabilities and the failings of language, and how do you go about manipulating this into expression?

RA: This is a good question, but also a large and difficult question. There is, paradoxically, a limit to the effect a direct statement can have. I can say, “I’m sad,” but that doesn’t make you sad unless you already love me. What art does, in general, is try to recreate (in some sense) the circumstances that produce certain feelings or thoughts. I’m oversimplifying now, but it’s important to say that first. Beyond that, I find that my feelings and thoughts are seldom single, simple, unmixed. Maybe a poet is a connoisseur of different states of mind. Saying that, of course, makes me uncomfortable. I wrote a poem called “Provenance” (from Versed) which investigates this discomfort. I’m going to give you the first four stanzas:

It’s characteristic of X
to place his anxiety here

between “time”
and “alive.”

What can you give me
for this glimpse
and its provenance?

I’ve got one just like it.

In this poem I’m talking about a real anxiety, but I’m talking about it in the language of art collectors. What does it mean to appreciate and judge the expressed quality of other people’s (or your own) anxiety? Is that what we do in the arts? I don’t know if that answers your question, but I took a stab at it.


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And because it’s a lovely poem, here it is in its entirety:


Provenance


It’s characteristic of X
to place his anxiety here

between “time”
and “alive.”

What can you give me
for this glimpse
and its provenance?

I’ve got one just like it.

What interests me now
are spin-offs
of spin-offs.

The narrative
that rescues us
once more

in a less probable way.

By sailing
upside down at dusk
we’ve returned
from the land of the dead.

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