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The Pretext

by Edith Wharton

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From Publishers Weekly
The San Diego-based Armantrout is usually considered the most lyrically oriented of the language poets, eschewing the longer, process-oriented works of the San Francisco wing (now geographically scattered) of her fellow travelers. Her 1998 autobiographical work, True, demonstrated that she could write compelling, if not virtuosic, prose; Wesleyan's selection shows that as with William Carlos Williams, to whom Armantrout owes a debt in the curious torquing of her sentences it is not stylistic pyrotechnics, grandiose theoretical syntheses or encyclopedic references that drives these terrific poems, but an original and quirky turn of mind. Veil includes work from seven previous collections, including The Pretext (which Green Integer is finally issuing whole), and a section of 19 new poems clocking in at 32 pages. Those who haven't discovered the superb poems of Necromance and Made to Seem will find their unsettling vignettes utterly compelling, alert to the vaguest shades of postmodern subjecthood. The Pretext's best poems are resonant coincidings of short bursts of insight, not necessarily aimed at metaphysical revelry (as in, say, Louise Glick's work or in writers of the "ellipticist" tendency) but suggesting an ethical dimension to being: "How do I look?// meaning what/ could I pass for/ when every eye's/ a guard," she writes in "My Associates," and later, "Time's tic:/ to pitch forward/ then catch `itself'/ again.// `We're' bombing Iraq again.// If I turn on the news,/ someone will say, `We / mean business.'" The new poems (including "The Plan," which will be featured in Best American Poetry 2001) continue to avoid "wild/ posturing" for "leafy// prestidigitation" readers won't believe their eyes. (Oct.) Forecast: Armantrout steadily gained recognition in the '90s as writers and critics of all stripes discovered her work; Veil is sure to be often assigned on campus, while the full-text Pretext will be more confined to fans. The publication of the two books together, especially given Wesleyan's high po-biz profile, should give Armantrout an extra push toward overdue award nominations.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.



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