All of us at PennSound couldn't be happier to hear last night's news that Rae Armantrout'sVersed had been awarded the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. In their official citation, the NBCC praisedVersed for "its demonstration of superb intellect and technique, its melding of experimental poetics but down-to-earth subject matter to create poems you are compelled to return to, that get richer with each reading," while in a recent blog post highlighting finalists, James Marcus observes that Armantrout's work is "playful, poignant, and metaphysically alert?never more so than in Versed [...] whose vigilant, often beautiful poems seem to reset the reader?s mental instrumentation."
Faithful PennSound listeners have had the opportunity to hear material from Versed long before it was released, starting with a May 2006 Close Listening reading and conversation with Charles Bernstein, which featured eight poems from the manuscript-in-progress. Alongside a generous selection of poems from Armantrout's just-published collection, Next Life, readings from Versed also figured heavily into a pair of 2007 readings at the Bowery Poetry Club (as part of the Segue Series, in May) and the Kelly Writers House (in September). It's interesting to note that in these recordings, Armantrout differentiates between the poetic sequences "Versed" and "Dark Matter," originally considered separate manuscripts, which would be published together under the titleVersed — a possibility she acknowledges in a summer 2008 reading that comes to us through A Voice Box.
You can hear all of these recordings on PennSound's Rae Armantrout author page, a veritable treasure trove of readings, talks and interviews from 1979 to the present, amply demonstrating how integral a member Armantrout is to our various communities — whether as a frequent KWH visitor, Segue Series participant or poetic missionary from coast to coast. We heartily congratulate Rae for her achievement, and the NBCC committee for their exquisite taste.