Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Lines composed a few miles above the 92nd Street Y, on visiting a Rae Armantrout reading during a tour of the publication of her book Versed,  March 12, 2009.

  by Jaye Freyer

Poet as dark & light as the day & night
Unfiltered & indiscriminate -- effervescent:
Thought occurs, rises up, finds height & breaks.
In the blink of an eye, is in this day

No demands:  no hammers, bolts, chisels, beams
No blueprints; no canvas tightly stretched, pre-sketched,
No thoughts of voice, footnotes, context,
No resources spent - save but the moment
That it took to write.

Just a moment
That may or may not replicate
Like the seer writing poems upon leaves
Three thousand years ago on a hill in Greece
Blowing them from palm to wind
Those poems still
On occasion

I listened to a podcast by Poetry Magazine in 2009 where a young broadcaster stated that Rae Armantrout was the most dangerous poet in America.  I was immediately gripped with a desire to see her.  Happily she was scheduled to do a reading at the 92nd Street Y a few weeks later and I bought tickets for the family.  I was completely surprised by the person who Rae Armantrout was, as well as by her poetry (which I liked a great deal).  I wrote these lines a few days later.  

A friend in college, a classical scholar, likened poets' endeavors to the oracle at Delphi who (I thought he said) wrote her prophesies in verse on laurel leaves and cast them to the wind for the fortunate to find.  I must have made some of that up because I can't find any such description for the activities of the Delphic Oracle on the internet but I love the image - the idea that the writing of a poem will, for the most part, have no more impact on anything than a leaf cast on the wind.  

Turn that thought over a few times and it starts to become interesting.  Coming across a leaf with a poem written on it would be interesting but that any leaf passing by may be inscribed with a poem seems intriguing - and what if all leaves are inscribed with something of a mystery to be deciphered - that would be transformative.  Metaphysically, a poem of a stranger may 'land' for me today but on another day be unreadable, and so it would not 'land'; that when a poem really 'lands' it is an epiphany, an other-worldly bit of light that comes in like a gift.  The image has always been a favorite of mine as it speaks volumes to the quiet nature of this sort of writing. 

I featured what I liked best about Rae's poetry - what seems so effervescently effortless.  She may really toil with her poems but they have a lightness of being that is compelling.  She has attracted some mighty minds to write about what she is writing about - with good reason I guess - but I would advise rather than reading about her writing to just read it or listen to her reading by clicking her name in the title above or save the scroll and click here Rae's Poetry Reading.  

A Resemblance (from Versed) by Rae Armantrout  

As a word is
mostly connotation,

matter is mostly


(The same loneliness
that separates me

from what I call
”the world.”)


Quiet, ragged
skirt of dust

encircling a ceramic



”Are you happy now?”


Would I like
a vicarious happiness?


Though I suspect
yours of being defective,