Born in a naval hospital in Vallejo, California in 1947, Rae Armantrout began life and was reared in communities of military man and their families on naval bases throughout California, but predominantly in San Diego. As an only child with a deep sensitivity to her own inner life, she lived a very insular childhood, described quite beautifully in her short autobiography of 1998, True. Like many young, developing writers and artists, Armantrout felt distanced from the lives of her parents, but her parent’s fascination with myths of the West, balanced with a Methodist fundamentalist perspective gave Armantrout a strong sense of irony, revealed in nearly all her poems.
Living with her parents in the working class community named Allied Gardens, Armantrout enrolled at San Diego State University in 1965, with the intention of majoring in anthropology. During her first year there she met Chuck Korkegian and continued to date him throughout her university years in San Diego. During her sophomore year she discovered the works of poets such as William Carlos Williams and Denise Levertov, which led her to refocus her educational studies on English and American literature. Ultimately, this led her to transfer to the University of California, Berkeley.
While attending the university in Berkeley, Armantrout studied with Levertov and made friends with Ron Silliman and others who would eventually be connected with the San Francisco group of “Language” poets of the late 1980s. She graduated from Berkeley in 1970, returning to San Diego and Chuck, whom she married in 1971. With a few poems accepted by Clayton Eshelman for his magazine Caterpillar, Armantrout began to perceive herself as a poet.
She went on to take a Master’s degree from San Francisco State University, publishing her first book of poems, Extremities, in 1978. Since that time she has been actively involved in various literary communities through southern California. Among her books are The Invention of Hunger (1979), Precedence (1985), Necromance (1991), Made to Seem (1995), The Pretext (2001), and Veil: New and Selected Poems (2001). Her writing, as Robert Creeley has described it, is one of a “clarity of syntax,” with an interest in “the calm solidness of words”; but beneath this seemingly transparent presentation of the southern California landscape, with its metaphors of film, history, and popular culture, is a wry sense of with (in both its meanings of droll humor and wise knowing). The poetry is also aphoristic and proverbial in a way that reveals the influence of American literary figures such as Gertrude Stein and Williams. Her significance as a contemporary poet is apparent in the collection of essays on her work, A Wild Salience: The Writings of Rae Armantrout, with pieces by Lyn Hejinian, Robert Creeley, Fanny Howe, Ron Silliman, and others.
She lives in San Diego, where she teaches literature and poetry workshops at the University of California, San Diego. She has also been the organizer of a poetry reading series at the University. With Fanny Howe she organized the highly respected “Page Mother’s” conference on women’s writing at the University in 1998. In 2004 Wesleyan University Press published her most recent poetry, Up to Speed. Green Integer will publish her Complete Early Poems in 2007.
BOOKS OF POETRY:
Extremities (Berkeley, California: The Figures, 1978); The Invention of Hunger (Berkeley, California: Tuumba, 1979); Precedence (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1985); Necromance (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1991); Couverture [in French] (Royaumont, France: Les Cahiers de Royaumont, 1991); Made to Seem (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1995); Writing the Plot About Sets (Tucson: Chax Press, 1998); The Pretext (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2001); Veil: New and Selected Poems (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2001); Up to Speed (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2004).
See Green Integer title(s) by this author