While exhibiting a personal logic that can turn impersonal through appropriation, and a style that their author, Rae Armantrout, has developed through eleven books (“Everything I know / is something I’ve repeated”), many of the poems in Money Shot explicitly respond to other traditions. The opening lines of “A Given” (“Given potassium enough / and time,”) revise the opening of Andrew Marvell’s “To his Coy Mistress.” Since Marvell’s “world” has been replaced by a vitamin, we start with a specific deficiency and enter a world of supplement, reminiscent of the “Medicine Shoppe” in Armantrout’s last book, Versed. In its opening couplet, “Eyes (After John Milton)” reworks the first line of his sonnet (“Our light is never spent. / Is spent”). “Wordsworth’s secret / freshet” makes a cameo appearance in “Warble,” and “Day” is dedicated to Gerard Manley Hopkins. In “Autobiography: Urn Burial,” a nod to Thomas Browne, the poet asks whether we can actually inhabit the past long enough for inspection, or is our sense of movement similar to how “form appears / to chase function.” Though many of her allusions are to the past, the forms used to approach these traditions are vintage Armantrout, and are discernible by sight: taut. Prose exceptions aside, they consist of short lines and short stanzas and sections divided numerically or by asterisks. They provide a container that can hold any subject. If something is worth looking at and listening to—and, in this poetics, everything is (from a tabloid at the supermarket to a child’s yell of “Mom-my!”)—it can be held by the form. The poems seem eager to explore what the contemporary lyric can accommodate: from Miltonic metonymy to Robert Brown’s particle theory. They remind one of Armantrout’s question in The Grand Piano: ‘Has anyone anywhere ever defined what they meant by “lyrical”?’ and also of Armantrout’s most lyrical poems to date: in Versed when she is handling the subject of cancer. Though essential qualities of the “lyrical” are not explicitly determined, definition remains a central consideration in Armantrout’s work, and always leads us to inquiry. Can a term like “authenticity” be defined with an utterance about its function? Can a life’s course be described if “always half / forgotten / or mis- / remembered as / our own”?—a fitting question for a poet engaged in the experiment of collective autobiography. Do we trust that a poem entitled “Human,” which starts with “a subatomic particle,” can actually tell us what either of them are? A personal form emerges from these preoccupations, and meaning can change through the poem’s procedure, which involves an “equal counter-weight of assertion and doubt.” (See Armantrout’s “Cheshire Poetics”). A commitment to this course allows for flexibility through juxtaposition, a “double-bind” of doubt and faith in the function of any concept or thing. All ideas when spoken (or written down) exist in “liminal” space, in “an illusion / of passage,” leading the poet to question everything, even words like “the” or “with.” But while she wavers on whether the phrase “the known world” can yield any perceptible meaning, her procedure admits that poetry, even when exposing overused language, does.

Joomla SEF URLs by Artio

Buy Lana Turner #9

Issue 9 is HERE!

Order Now

@ltjournal on Twitter