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Just Saying

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In Just Saying, improbable and even untenable speakers are briefly constituted—only to disappear. The result is part carnival, part nightmare. A television pundit’s rhetoric segues into an unusual succulent with writhing maroon tongues. When the world suddenly becomes legible, is that revelation or psychosis? In this book, the voice of the Lord and/or the voice of the security state can come from anyplace. The problem of identity becomes acute. The poems in Just Saying may be imagined as chimeras, creatures that ...
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Just Saying

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Overview

In Just Saying, improbable and even untenable speakers are briefly constituted—only to disappear. The result is part carnival, part nightmare. A television pundit’s rhetoric segues into an unusual succulent with writhing maroon tongues. When the world suddenly becomes legible, is that revelation or psychosis? In this book, the voice of the Lord and/or the voice of the security state can come from anyplace. The problem of identity becomes acute. The poems in Just Saying may be imagined as chimeras, creatures that appear when old distinctions break down and elements generally kept separate combine in new ways. Here Armantrout both worries (as a dog worries a bone) and celebrates the groundless fecundity of being and of language.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“No poet gets caustic, or self-critical, or sarcastic, as well as Armantrout, whose quick stanzas—half Twitter, half Emily Dickinson—say a lot about how language, money, love, and memory can fail us, and in very little space. This collection, in particular, might give readers still on the outside of Armantrout’s brilliance a set of new ways in.”—Publishers Weekly

“Armantrout explores existential questions with rare economy…. Here the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet scrutinizes marketing slogans, corporate catchphrases, and metaphysical quandaries.”—Carolyn Alessio, Booklist

“…Armantrout is on the lookout for the live-wire of the moment, the chatter of the now. She overhears, she jots, she scans. … ‘See something, say something,’ a poem begins. It’s Armantrout’s credo, her ars poetica. Everything she sees becomes a poem—a suspicious package.”—Michael Robbins, Chicago Tribune

“She assembles images, thoughts and sensations–things seen, heard, overhead–and finds inconspicuous patterns in them, never losing the abiding sense that saying anything might mean pretending to know too much. Yet many poems lead to overpowering revelations that will be lost on those only committing to a cursory read. … Rae Armantrout’s full bibliography is important and possibly essential. But it seems to matter that we don’t ignore the incredibly high level at which she is currently writing. If there are few variations in style, one might remember that her poems are new like every day is new: as long as the world is changing, there is fodder.”—John Deming, Cold Front

Publishers Weekly
Armantrout’s 2010 Pulitzer (for Versed) moved her from avant-garde paragon to a much more widely—and no less deeply—admired station: this second book since then (10th overall) finds her excelling in familiar yet challenging laconic modes, alert to the hypocrisies of daily life, the stresses and fears of adulthood, and the contradictions within our own desires. “I want to explore/ the post-hope zeitgeist,” Armantrout quips, and sometimes she does: in a poem about action movies and politics, “America/ has a lucid dream,” while in a tenderly frightening poem about motherhood, flowers, cold weather and firewood, “Each baby’s soul/ is cute/ in the same way.” Where recent volumes looked at her own life, before and after a diagnosis of cancer, this one more often turns outward into the shared facts of age and death, or at the oddities of our shared culture, with its superhero movies, its silly politics, its “lovely, fanged teenagers,/ red-eyed smeared with blood.” No poet gets caustic, or self-critical, or sarcastic, as well as Armantrout, whose quick stanzas—half Twitter, half Emily Dickinson—say a lot about how language, money, love, and memory can fail us, and in very little space. This collection, in particular, might give readers still on the outside of Armantrout’s brilliance a set of new ways in. (Feb.)
Library Journal
It's surprising how much jagged energy courses through the typically spare, distilled poems in this latest book by Armantrout, a distinguished poet who finally, deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for 2009's Versed. From violins coursing downward and monomaniacal hummingbirds, to "fire in a cage,/ gnawing on wood" and "bushes/ flowering furiously," to the poet herself "practic[ing] high speed de-/ selection," energy—veering up, gearing down, ever driving us forward—is Armantrout's very subject. That, and the balance we strike as we are buffeted about between beginning and end ("The difference// between nothing/ and nothingness// is existence"). Being "balanced," though, is something achieved only through constant readjustment, redefinition, de-selection (it's also the solid-as-rock, one-word closing line of the poem "Subdivision"). Life darts restlessly about: "This train of thought/ is not a train,// but a tendril,/ blind"; one poem even ends open-endedly with the lines "slim trunks bend/ every which". It's all very refreshing, even, dare one say, energizing. VERDICT Armantrout is sometimes accused of being inscrutable, but these terse, innocent-looking poems deliver scary insight. Highly recommended.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780819575210
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
  • Publication date: 9/9/2014
  • Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
  • Pages: 120
  • Sales rank: 457,856
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

RAE ARMANTROUT is a professor of writing in the Literature Department at the University of California at San Diego, and the author of eleven books of poetry, including Money Shot, Versed, Next Life, and Veil: New and Selected Poems.

Praise for Money Shot
“Armantrout has the ability to magnify the merest of words into an essay. True to the postmodern tradition, she gives no answer to the provocative questions she raises. Instead Money Shot offers sure proof of one thing: A well-wrought book of poems.”
—John Herbert Cunningham, Rain Taxi

“…There are a lot of possibilities. Which is exciting, and frightening. … Indeed, the charged openness of language is itself enough to power these poems. … Let’s play a game, Armantrout seems to say. This game has to do with language, and either it will destroy us or leave us alone on a sunny day. Take your pick.”
—Nick Sturm, Laurel Review

Praise for Versed
“Rae Armantrout is the most philosophical sort of poet, continually seeking in her collections to summon and surmise the contemporary character of subjective experience and, further, to test the limits of knowledge. … Short lines in brief poems are polyvalent in both voicing and implication, inviting multiple readings … yet pleasure arises in contemplating both the options and the paradox.”
—Tom Griffin, Bookforum

“Written under a diagnosis of cancer (‘I just called / to fill you in’), Versed is a major and moving addition to a life’s work in many-angled reflection.”
—Jeremy Noel-Tod, Times Literary Supplement

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Read an Excerpt

just saying

Wesleyan Poetry


By RAE ARMANTROUT

Wesleyan University Press

Copyright © 2013 Rae Armantrout
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8195-7300-1


Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

    SCRIPTURE


    Your violins pursue
    the downhill course
    of streams,

    even to their wild
    curls and cowlicks.

    To repeat
    is not to catch.


    * * *

    Consider the hummingbirds,
    how they're gussied up
    and monomaniacal
    as the worst (or best)
    of you.

    Consider the bright,
    streamlined emergency
    they manifest.


    * * *

    My leaves form bells,
    topknots,
    small cups of sex,
    overweening, unstoppered.

    Not one of you
    with all your practice

    is so extravagantly
    coiffed.


    INSTEAD


    1

    To each his own
    severance package.

    The Inca
    hacked large stones
    into the shapes of
    nearby peaks.


    2

    The eerie thing
    is that ghosts don't exist.

    Rows
    of clear droplets
    hang from stripped twigs

    instead.


    3

    Pain brings attention
    to herself.

    Spine on Fire!
    Trail Blazer!
    (Thinks she's hot.)

    Out here
    slim trunks bend
    every which


    OLD SCHOOL


    Pull strings taut and
    something like
    points reappear
    in the model.

    Take place. Momentum
    is conserved. Carry
    elementary clone world
    punctuation. Hostile

    fetus. Cancer
    is old school.
    Impersonal. Carry
    imperial aspirations.

    To aspirate
    is to breathe in
    and choke. Nobody
    wants this.

    "Nobody did this
    to me," screams
    now blind Cyclops.
    Nobody's listening

    is conserved.


    DRESS UP


    To be "dressed"
    is to emit
    "virtual particles."


    * * *

    The spirit of "renormalization" is that

    an electron
    all by itself

    can have infinite
    mass and charge,

    but, when it's "dressed" ...


    * * *

    A toddler stares at us
    till we look up.

    "Flirtatious," we call it.

    She waits
    until we get the joke

    about being here,
    being there.


    ACCOUNTS

    for Brian Keating


    Light was on its way
    from nothing
    to nowhere.

    Light was all business

    Light was full speed

    when it got interrupted.

    Interrupted by what?

    When it got tangled up
    and broke
    into opposite

    broke into brand-new things.

    What kinds of things?

    Drinking Cup

    "Thinking of you!
    Convenience Valet"

    How could speed take shape?


    * * *

    Hush!
    Do you want me to start over?


    * * *

    The fading laser pulse
    Information describing the fading laser pulse
    is stored
    is encoded
    in the spin states
    of atoms.

    God
    is balancing his checkbook

    God is encrypting his account.

    This is taking forever!


    EVENT HORIZON


    A street person? –
    unshaven, haggard –
    in a button-down
    and a full black skirt.

    If an image could talk,
    what would it say?

    A man in a skirt participates.

    A man in a skirt
    is never alone?


    * * *

    We are never alone.
    We are men in skirts.

    I am.

    I draw attention
    to myself.

    To make a black hole,
    one must concentrate.


    COLD


    What does it take
    to stay warm?

    Fire in a cage,
    gnawing on wood,

    throwing sprite
    after sprite

    off
    to extinction.

    Each baby's soul
    is cute
    in the same way.

    Rapt attention
    on a stalk,

    surprised by thirst.


    JUST SAYING


    What might be said
    to disport itself
    along the cinderblock
    in leaves.


    * * *

    What I write
    I write instead
    of ivy.


    * * *

    Green snouts
    in evidence or –
    more
    to the point –
    insolent
    and tense.


    * * *

    What might be said
    to writhe
    professionally     as the days
    nod and wink.


    GHOSTED


    1

    Long, loose,
    spindly, green
    stalks with their few
    leaves, bug-eaten
    tatters
    on which
    a black monarch
    sits, folding
    and unfolding
    its wings.


    2

    A friend's funeral has broken up –
    or was that the last dream?

    Now I'm struggling
    between monuments,

    looking for Chuck.

    It's getting dark
    and I'm pissed off

    because he won't answer his cell.


    3

    On the wall in a coffee bar,
    a model's arms
    and stern, pretty face
    frame a window

    (where her chest should be)

    and a clear sky beyond


    REMAINDER


    String of empty offices,
    illuminated, festive?


    * * *

    People exist
    to attach importance.


    * * *

    I practice
    high speed deselection.


    * * *

    The difference

    between nothing
    and nothingness

    is existence.


    * * *

    My dead friends
    don't visit me;

    they say I didn't
    know them.


    * * *

    You are cautious
    indolent, stubborn,
    skeptical, gentle, tense.


    * * *

    At sunset, pigeons
    practice synchronized flying.


    * * *

    Thus "are" becomes "is,"
    "is" becomes "ness."


    * * *

    Let the burning spill
    extend


    SUGGESTION


    Your brain feels swollen,
    as if it's floating
    on a string, no, on two,
    each held in the balled fist
    of an eye.

    The feeling produces this image:
    two crying children –
    brother and sister? –
    clutching strings
    in an old city of brick, stone.

    What does this image explain?


    * * *

    "In the beginning"
    In the end,
    these are –
    there are –
    only suggestions:

    "Clockwise" or "counter" –
    though there are no clocks.
    "Horizontal" or "vertical" –
    though there is no horizon.


    * * *

    Being aware of anything outside yourself
    means you aren't sleeping

    so you have pushed things away.
    Now you are alone with pain.

    Pain is as large as you are
    and is not obedient.

    If you became pain, perhaps,
    then you could rest.

    But it is not possible
    to merge with pain.


    SPENT


    Suffer as in allow.

    List as in want.

    Listless as in transcending
    desire, or not rising
    to greet it.

    To list
    is to lean,
    dangerously,
    to one side.

    Have you forgotten?

    Spent
    as in exhausted.


    MY TASTE


    What it means
    to "own sake."


    * * *

    How to explain
    my taste
    for phone lines,

    the shared slouch
    of those two

    or this one
    like a ruler

    where a hummingbird
    marks the center
    slash.


    * * *

    This yard which
    for years
    was a blond patch

    and is now
    a stylish desert,
    bronze crushed granite

    between bushes
    flowering furiously


    HAUNTS


    1

    Rock eaten
    to familiar shapes –

    heads cocked
    on jagged spines.


    * * *

    How many
    orange, pink, white
    rock pinnacles
    are visible from here?

    Grandeur
    is that number

    plus distance,

    as if "again"
    could be made manifest.


    2

    "Nature" was a 19th-century fad,
    cousin to eugenics.

    In the 21st century,
    America's soft core's
    undead.


    * * *

    On how many bookstore shelves,
    lovely, fanged teenagers,
    red-eyed, smeared with blood.


    PARTING SHOTS


    1

    Long, confident sentences
    of the early visitors,

    so unlike ours,
    so much like one another,

    remark
    on the sculpted "grandeur"

    of the walls,
    and then, with one light touch,

    on the bracing sense
    of insignificance

    that they impart.


    2

    Behind the only wall in sight,
    the defamiliarized wall,

    a sniper
    tells a camera crew

    his work is "invigorating"
    because it's "personal."


    INFLECTION


    When I wake up, I'm dragging
    lower incisors
    along those above,

    and, for an instant,
    I experience
    satisfaction and fear

    in equal parts.


    * * *

    I'm reading, "The wrath of God
    inflicts dragons,
    ostriches,
    and owls,
    seductively singing."

    Go on.


    * * *

    Babble:

    horns punctuate
    a flexible roar.


    * * *

    Some roofs have one
    or more

    water tanks
    with pointed hats;

    some roofs have none.

    Some squares are black
    and trimmed in silver;

    some are gray.


    THE LOOK


    The boxer crab
    attaches a sea anemone
    to each claw,
    waves.


    * * *

    You, small flower-bearing stick,
    what is your true name?


    * * *

    Spooked and spooked again.
    It's cute

    when the intricately patterned
    black and yellow fish

    twitches
    and shoots off

    in a new direction.


    * * *

    From birth,
    you've been moving

    your eyes
    back and forth,

    looking
    to be hailed.

(Continues...)


Excerpted from just saying by RAE ARMANTROUT. Copyright © 2013 by Rae Armantrout. Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Scripture
Instead
Old School
Dress Up
Accounts
Event Horizon
Cold
Just Saying
Ghosted
Remainder
Suggestion
Spent
My Taste
Haunts
Parting Shots
Inflection
The Look
At Least
Holding Pen
Subdivision
My Apocalypse
Things
Entry
Arrivals
Circulating
Production
Being Seen
Transactions
At
Action Poem
The Thinning
Elements of Bank
Situation
Midst
Representative
Second Order
Scale
Custom
And
Treatment
Coming Out
Watch This
Experts
Experimental Design
Meeting Expectations
Problem Areas
Between Islands
Half Lives
Progress
The Music Teacher
Without End
Bardos
Living Space
Luster
Formal Constraints
Rounds
Mother’s Day
Thus
Focus
The Elect
New Intelligence
Another
Still and All
Real Time
Meant
Hymn
Stop and Go
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