Part of a Body of Knowledge

Literary Hub Feature Poem of the Week

July 9, 2015  By Rae Armantrout

In her Lit Hub interview, published yesterday, Armantrout tosses out this insight, at once casual and quietly sublime:

I like the idea that we can make new, provisional entities out of whatever the world throws at us. I think that’s how we create our personalities—and it’s how I write poems.

Readers of Armantrout’s poetry have come to know that her challenge to language is absolute, strange-making and all-encompassing. To make “new, provisional entities out of whatever the world throws at us” means assuming there is no inherent, stable, clear “us” beforehand. It also means that underneath the placid agreeability of her creative stance is that terrifying sense that we are always beginning, always oriented toward the future, whether in selves or in poems, certainly in whatever sense may (or may not) come between them. In this beautiful sampling of five new poems, the stanzas are a testament to her sense of poetry as particles, burrs, pebbled ruins. They bespeak a reality that the reader is about to witness in its most fierce dissolution: at the atomic level of syllable, meme, stray phrase or hackneyed vernacularism. Or witness, perhaps, through the poet’s incipient rub and scratch of modest exteriors, in these slim lines and short poems, the origins for a new house of being. That’s what I love most about Armantrout’s poetry—its modesty as sublimity, its uncertainty principle as ultimate generosity. However “alien” you find it, you have to admit, it’s pretty damn majestic.  

—Adam Fitzgerald, Poetry Editor





It’s hopeless.

The aliens don’t get
our humor.

How to wear
“Duck Dynasty”

as part
of a body

of knowledge.



In our world
the past’s a joke

because we laugh at
what scares us,

those zombie decades

with all feeling
sucked out of them.

Our unthinkable

on their quaint devices.

The present exists
so long

as we wink
at its near


Is it like that
where you are?






Sculpted minarets
of clouds gone

hence – or thence?

No dreams
are that well formed.



No one can depict

the absolute bracelets
of the orbits

touched upon
by electrons

as feeling dithers
between words




“Fairy dust,” she said
and cried.

“Fairy dust” as if
for the night sky

to be green
phosphorescent sheets

was at last
what she needed

so that words
had meaning.

For this we shoved
a ball
back at mother,

for this ran off,
arms out,
across a field




Let’s just say

“rather than using
energy to replicate,

complex carbons

use replication
to dissipate

excess energy.”



How is energy “excessive”?



At current levels
of efficiency

we need only
the story

of the story.

In the end
Lucy and Mimi

bury a new box

knowing that now
they will always




My brain tricked me
into sleeping.

My body tricked me
into waking up.

“What do you do?”

I trick children
into writing down their thoughts.



Pre-owned, lightly
excoriated subject
position available.



You don’t have it
unless you can get it

and outside in

some kind of

Rae Armantrout
Rae Armantrout
Rae Armantrout has published 12 books of poetry. Her most recent collection, Itself, was published in 2015. Her 2013 book, Just Saying, has just appeared in an Italian edition on stampato presso, Rome. Her poems have also been collected in a Spanish edition: Rae Armantrout: Poemas (Spain, 2014). Versed (2009) received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Partly, a volume of new and selected poems will appear in 2016. Her work has appeared in many anthologies such as: The Best of the Best American Poetry: 1988-2012 (2013), The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine (2012). Armantrout was a fellow at the Rockefeller Center in Bellagio, Italy from June 26 to July 24 2014.

Previous Article
The Poetry Collider
Next Article
How to Send Things to Germany

More Story
The Poetry Collider Rae Armantrout's latest collection of poetry, Itself, is available from the Wesleyan Poetry Series. Adam Fitzgerald: I’m...

Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.