The Pultizer Prize winners were announced on Monday and I have to be the first to admit I had heard of exactly zero of the winners and only one or two of the nominees. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, I certainly wasn’t alone. I think you can look at prizes like this from two perspectives. There is the idea that the award is out of touch with what people are actually reading and that it would serve the awards committees to perhaps pay a little bit more attention to what is, if not popular, then actually on people’s radar. But then there is the flip-side of that coin. No one said that the Nobel or the Pulitzer or the National Book Award were for books that people are reading, just books that are excellent. I think it would have been boring if they had chosen a book that everyone had read and was familiar with. In this way, they opened up an entire new group of readers to Tinkers by Paul Harding, and as I want to show you today, the poetry of Rae Armantrout.
I’ve never read Rae Armantrout, so I immediately set out to read some of her poems at Poets.org, which is an amazing website and resource that allows you to not only read some of the poems of the best poets out there, but also has a wealth of recorded versions of the poems so you can listen to them. Most of these are read by the author, so you can hear the poems as they were meant to be heard.
Rae Armantrout was a founding member of the Language school of poets. A particularly avant-garde group of writers that, according to Wikipedia, focuses on disjunction and often employs prose poetry instead of traditional verse. After reading that, I was expecting Armantrout’s poetry to be very inaccessible, but what I have read so far is extremely accessible and wonderful to read. The subject matter is sometimes elusive, but the language is gorgeous and you can just reach at what she is trying to reach. I think I have found a new favorite poet.
This is the first poem I read of Rae Armantrout, and it is the one I keep going back to. It was originally published in the June 2008 issue of Poetry.
Haunted, they say, believing
the soft, shifty
dunes are made up
of false promises.
is the other half
of a conversation.
to the dead.
“The boys are doing really well.”
nothing is so
until it has been witnessed.
The bits are iffy;
the forces that bind them,
Honestly, I’m not sure that I could tell you right now what I think this poem is about. Mostly it is the mystery that is really pulling me in right now and I love it. I think I’m just going to reread it a couple or a hundred times and then maybe I’ll come back to you with an explanation.
What do you think of the Pulitzer nominees? What do you think of the poem “Djinn” by Rae Armantrout?