Monday, April 12, 2010

Congrats to Rae Armantrout + Poem: Rae Armantrout

A busy, busy week so far, and it's only Monday, so let me take time, even briefly, to congratulate poet Rae Armantrout, a longtime and important figure among several innovative writing communities in the US, for winning this year's Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, for her newest book, Versed (Wesleyan University Press), which was also a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award. (She was in Chicago a month ago, and I did get to meet her and secure her autographs; I hope she's back through town soon.)

In several of the Pulitzer categories, this was a banner year for small presses; the other poetry nominees were Tryst by Angie Estes, published by Oberlin College Press, and Inseminating the Elephant, by Lucia Perillo, published by Copper Canyon Press. The fiction category winner, Tinkers, by Paul Harding, was published by Bellevue Literary Press, another small press, and the other nominees included Lydia Millet's Love in Infant Monkeys, published by Soft Skull Press, and Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Voices, a highly touted debut published by the venerable mid-sized publisher and distributor W. W. Norton.

Other Arts & Letters winners included (Drama) the musical Next to Normal, music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey; (History) Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed (The Penguin Press); (Biography) The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles (Alfred A. Knopf); (General Nonfiction) The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman (Doubleday); and (Music) Violin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon (Lawdon Press).  Also, the late Hank Williams Sr. was honored for "his craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life." ??? Uh, okay.

Among the journalism winners, I was really amazed that a journalist, Sheri Fink, affiliated with a non-newspaper, independent, not-for-profit investigative and reporting organization, Pro-Publica, was a joint winner in the Investigative Journalism category.  Ms. Fink, in collaboration with The New York Times Magazine, was honored for a story that chronicled "the urgent life-and-death decisions made by one hospital’s exhausted doctors when they were cut off by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina." This is only the beginning for such organizations, I think.

Now, back to Rae Armantrout (1947-). Here's a poem from Versed, "New," which, like all of the poems in the volume, rings and wrings changes based on the ideas behind and in each poem, often with synapse-fast leaps between thoughts and images sparked, in many cases, by the most basic technical, rhetorical and aural resources of poetry itself: rhyme, rhythm, assonance, metaphor, simile, and metonymy, to name a few. The poems are often quite funny too. Enjoy.


If yellow
is the new black,

the new you
is a cartoon

who blows his lines

around bumptious 3-D

apologizes often,
and remains cheerful.


The new pop song
is about getting real:

"You had a bad day.
The camera don't lie."

But they're lying
to you
about the camera.


Since Fallujah
is the new Antigua

sunlight nibbles
on pre-

in the electric fireplace.

Copyright © Rae Armantrout, from Versed, Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2009, 2010. All rights reserved.

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