Examining the Glass and the Frame: Politics and Subjectivity in Rae Armantrout's Poetry

by Olesya Bondarenko

Contemporary American poetry is characterized by a noticeable preoccupation with issues of society, power and ideology. Rae Armantrout, the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner, says in an interview about her generation of poets: “We… grew up in the era of Vietnam and Watergate. We grew up skeptical. We don`t think language is a clear window through which the world can be presented. Or, if language is a window, we`ve learned it`s best to examine the glass and the frame”. The proposed case-study seeks to analyze the intricate relations between language, politics and subjectivity in Rae Armantrout`s writing. Through close reading of her poems and poetry-related essays, it addresses the ‘theoretical turn’ occurring in American poetry which is responsible for its growing engagement with social and political matters as well as a significant shift in modes of poetic subjectivity. Rae Armantrout`s poetry is marked by the very same concern for subjectivity that dominated much of poststructuralist theoretical thought: she constructs her lyric subject, sometimes in seemingly conventional forms, only to dismantle the very linguistic devices involved in the process of this construction as well as to reveal the regimes of power behind it. Such dismantling requires very close attention to the subjective as the “power struggles begin in the public sphere and are reenacted in private”. It also creates a lot of tension in Armantrout`s texts as certain subjective experiences (such as, for example, a young woman`s first love modeled on Hollywood romances) are rendered illegitimate in the course of the scrutiny but still cannot be alienated and remain important for the subject.