Rae Armantrout was born in 1947 in Vallejo near San Francisco. While she was studying in Berkeley and San Francisco she was very active on the literary scene from which the group of “Language Poets” emerged. She participated in the establishment of many different cultural projects in the California Bay Area, and she has been teaching literature and writing for more than 20 years at the University of California, San Diego.
The “Language Poets” are considered to be the most prominent group of American post-modern poets, with Armantrout as their most lyric representative. Her poems deal with the phrasal nature of the symbolic system of language, which she encounters with cautious suspicion because it reproduces and confirms a morally dubious reality. “I think that if I didn’t write against norms, I wouldn’t be writing”, says Armantrout, who also describes her work as a “focus on the interventions of capitalism into consciousness”. At the same time the poet scrutinises her own language and thereby performs a deconstructive process. In her short and meticulously combined poems she mixes different levels of language, alienates quotations, stages provocative coincidences as well as linguistic accidents, and composes very obvious punchlines. As a result of this style, her texts are jolty, heterogeneous and opaque. The surprising changes in the short lines of the poems, which are written in everyday speech, also inhibit the readibility and lead to a challenging ambiguity. Her first volume of poems “Extremities” (1978) has so far been followed up by seven further collections concerned with the construction of femininity and the question of beauty, and the themes of time and memory. In 1998 her prose memoir “True”, which demonstrates Armantrout’s narrative talent, was published. In “Veil” (2001) new poems are combined with poems from previous collections such as “The Invention of Hunger” (1979), “Precedence” (1985), “Made to Seem” (1995) and “The Pretext” (2001).
Armantrout has been awarded the Fund for Poetry Award twice. She was given a California Arts Council Fellowship and was Writer in Residence at Bard College, and at the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland. Her poems have been published in numerous anthologies including: “Best American Poetry” in the years 1989, 2001 and 2002, “Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology” (1994) and “Poems for the Millennium” (1998).
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