Rae Armantrout’s Money Shot

I pride myself on enjoying diverse poetic styles. Increasingly, though, I find myself drawn to imagist or concrete poetry, often in the form of Chinese or Zen poetry. Thus, when I first encountered some Rae Armantrout’s poems on the web that I liked, I decided I should buy her lastest book of poems Money Shot.

I did find a number of poems I liked, poems that had some of the characteristics I’ve come to look for in poetry, like


1 To come to
in the middle

of a vibrato —
an “is” —

that some soprano’s

to sustain.

To be awake
is to discriminate

among birdcalls,
fruits, seeds,

“to work one’s way,”
as they say,


Just now

into awareness
falling forward,

hurtling inland
in all innocence.

Needless to say, I’m especially fond of the lines “To be awake/ is to discriminate/ among birdcalls” because I’ve been trying desperately in the last few years to discriminate between birdcalls. Unfortunately, though I can impress non-birders with my ability to distinguish some birds by their calls, any real birder would soon realize just how inadequate my skills are. Still, it is the increasing “awareness” that most interests me, and recognizing birds by their songs is no more important that recognizing them by habitat or by flight patterns.

Long ago I was a Wordsworth fan, and I still am a Hopkins fan, so I was attracted to this poem with its “freshet” and “warbles:”



Wordsworth’s secret

First orgasm.

Hopkins’ holy

Wordsworth’s sudden

remain standing.

What burbles?
What warbles?

Sea to shining, shining

The angels are the old gods
with a new service

They’ve put aside
their hijinks
for the greater good,

for unimpeded

“Fear not,”
the wires sing.

I even enjoyed the way Rae tied together “angels” and “the old gods,” but I still am baffled by the connection between part 1 and part 2.

There were a total of eight poems I marked as interesting enough to reread several times. That’s really not very many, especially considering how short the poems tend to be. I longed for more concrete poems like these, but the majority of the poems seemed like intellectual puzzles that the reader is supposed to piece together, as show in the excerpt from “Answer:”

As part of the language lessons,
I have holes cut in my forehead.

I am to learn by feel
to insert the proper keys.

I play along, though,
I still have my doubts.

Turns out I prefer my Surrealism in art, not poetry, though I don’t think that was always true. I’m afraid that last line, “I play along, though, privately” I still have my doubts” summarizes my feeling about this book of poems quite


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