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Armantrout's "Cheshire Poetics" on NPR's "On Point"

One of the more felicitous consequences of Rae Armantrout's Versed (Wesleyan University Press) receiving the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry is the delayed "victory tour" of the major media outlets that Ms. Armantrout has been on since the end of the semester and her teaching responsibilities at the University of California, San Diego.
Not all of the discussions of contemporary poetry in the popular media are illuminating: some contribute to the marginalization of poetry and such persistent cultural mythologies as the misconception that poets hibernate eleven months a year and then emerge from their burrows (or if they live in New York City, their boroughs) every April for National Poetry Month.  Armantrout, however, is a singularly generous and thoughtful interview guest who articulates a much more innovative, and in many senses "radical," approach to poetics and writing in general than is generally presented in the mainstream media. 
On Thursday, she appeared on the second hour of National Public Radio Show On Point with Tom Ashbrook, where she read from her work, talked about the bi-coastal origins of "language writing," writing and gender, and some of the influences and thought processes that inform the formal developments in her work.  It's worth a listen, particularly if you are looking for a straightforward discussion of the "inherently political" project of language-centered writing with respect to "post-confessional" poetries and the public discourse of our media culture.
Much credit should to go "On Point" host Tom Ashbrook and his staff, who on the day after he interviewed Buffalo-based urban gardener and Buffalo Spree magazine editor Elizabeth Licata as part of a program on "gardening for a lifetime," displayed his considerable range by serving as a focused and well-prepared respondent to Armantrout's "Cheshire Poetics."
In the above titled essay available at the University at Buffalo's Electronic Poetry Center, Armantrout writes of having been "...drawn to poems that seemed as if they were either going to vanish or explode - to extremes, in other words, radical poetries.  But how do we define 'radical?' Perhaps by how much is put at risk in the text, how far the arc of implication can reach and still seem apt. But so much rides, as always, on that word "seems." Is a writing radical when it risks being wrong, when it acknowledges our wrongness? I think my poetry involves an equal counter-weight of assertion and doubt. It's a Cheshire poetics, one that points two ways then vanishes in the blur of what is seen and what is seeing, what can be known and what it is to know. That double-bind..."
You can listen or download the 46 minute program for podcast here.  A selection of Armantrout's poems from Versed that are either read or referred to in this interview in are available at
--R.D. Pohl


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