Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rae Armantrout, Versed

I don't get it.

I mean... I don't pretend to understand most / a lot / much of contemporary verse, American or otherwise, but... I try. And while understanding might often keep me at arm's length I can usually find considerable appreciation and pleasure -- even if only in moments.

Rae Armantrout's Pulitzer Prize (2010) winning collection, Versed, left me more perplexed than anything else. I tracked down the Pulitzer citation to try to get a handle on the whys and wherefores of the award and am left with (it's brief):
"...a book striking for its wit and linguistic inventiveness, offering poems that are often little thought-bombs detonating in the mind long after the first reading."
Yeah. No. At least, not for me. There is poetry that acts this way for me, that explodes and pulls me up short. That's remembered. This isn't such a collection; this isn't that poetry. Rather, the whole -- poem to poem or string them all together as a single verse (it really doesn't seem to matter since there is little coherence or unity within any particular poem) -- reads more like dis-jointed, drifting, floating not-quite haiku; almost-aphorisms piled one on top of another with a title on top.

Or, to borrow from a now forgotten other context, just so many "captions without photographs" and all referencing quite different photographs. The Pulitzer Committee obviously felt differently but Armantrout, in this collection at least, can't quite pull it off.