A Lesson in Reading Rae Armantrout’s Pulitzer Prize Winning “Versed”

Rae Armantrout

The more you study poetry, the more you realize that each new collection requires the development of a new set of reading skills and a complete submission to the work at hand. You must approach each with an open mind and suspend everything you thought you knew about the world. The rules are different with each collection, yet you may find if you submit, that there are endless possibilities as to what you may experience. A skilled poet can create a world in which certainty of anything, even your own existence, could hinder your enjoyment and experience of their work.

To read Rae Armantrout’s Versed, you must first say goodbye to your family, friends and busy schedule, any potential distraction, and focus. You must comfortably sit or lie in a quiet place, and when I say quiet, I mean to the point where you can hear wave after wave of your own thoughts dissipating into the air and out to the universe and the collective consciousness. You will need to be alone with her thoughts, sorry, your thoughts, for an hour, maybe two, or three…. Let’s just say as long as it takes to “get it” (I assure you each new reading will produce fresh interpretations). Once in solitary, you will have the opportunity to study the front cover.

Is that a face? A hostile planet? The curve of a right breast?

This book has won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2010, National Book Critics Circle Award, and


was a National Book Award Finalist, yet here it sits in your hands.

This a little ambitious, a bit overwhelming? What on earth could she have she written in these pages?

Don’t you dare drop that book! You haven’t even read the Table of Contents, maybe that will give you some clue as to what this is about, but all you see is a list of mostly single word titles, all seemingly unrelated. After all, what does Results have to do with Name Calling have to do with Heaven have to do with Take Out?

Okay, so this is about Reality TV. Wait, She won a Pulitzer Prize for a book about Reality T.V?

The second stanza has nothing to do with Reality TV: oxidation…digestion, and … anteater?

Wait a minute! None of this makes sense.

You have to keep reading if you’re ever going figure this out.

Maybe this is above our heads, maybe we should have gotten high before….Whoa! Above …head…high,…floating …anteater. What if Armantrout, in her genius, has created a world, based on her own rules? Rules which allow her to successfully captured and recreate all those qualities of consciousness in written verse? What if the swift change of subject from stanza to stanza recreates the fleeting yet connected quality of thought, while the asterisks floating midway between stanzas, both separating and converging, recreates the effortless leap from one thought to the next, like electrical impulses zipping through synapses in the brain? What if…

Rea Armantrout is scheduled to read at Chapman University as part of Tabula Poetica’s Annual Poetry Reading Series at 5 p.m. on September 14th 2010.



  1. September 5, 2010 at 11:45 PM

    Great post, Natalie! I look forward to her reading!

    • AphroditeAres said,

      September 6, 2010 at 11:18 AM

      You’ll love her, Michelle.

    • Libby said,

      May 14, 2017 at 5:35 AM

      Fidnnig this post. It’s just a big piece of luck for me.

    • May 31, 2017 at 10:14 AM

      This is by far the best looking site I’ve seen. It was completely easy to navigate and it was easy to look for the information I needed. Fantastic layout and great content!

  2. scriven said,

    September 6, 2010 at 6:23 AM


    Your post has made me understand that we need deeper levels of literacy to create and encounter new literature; ones rooted not so much in the mechanics as in the imagination.

    • AphroditeAres said,

      September 6, 2010 at 11:19 AM

      Thanks, Dr. Scriven. These days I’m obsessed with the mind, consciousness and imagination, so it was a real treat studying her work. Can’t wait to meet her next week!

  3. Sammy said,

    September 7, 2010 at 1:43 PM

    Okay. I must say that I am not a writer,neither do I care much for poetry; However your post has made me want to read this book. I would also like to add that I like the way you write.

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