The words come at you in spurts or splashes, short, quick lines that pack a punch, but only if you take your time and attempt to figure them out.
“I think it's difficult to ever say that my poems are about one thing,” Armantrout says. “I mean, they're about whatever is going on around me, what's going on in the world, what's going on in my life or some combination of those elements. So, really, for me, a poem is about the way you bring the different elements together and make them join or rub up against one another or have friction, or something like that.”
Armantrout was recently awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her work in Versed. It's a two-part collection of poems, and one half of the book was written during a time when she thought she had only a few months left to live. When Armantrout was working on the book, she was diagnosed with a very rare, deadly form of cancer (she's in remission now), so expect to find traces of that dark experience scattered throughout the pages.
But prepare to be surprised, too. One of Armantrout's favorite aspects of poetry is the element of surprise, and she manages to slip a few in the book. The author turned to Page 34 and read from her poem “Scumble” to demonstrate.
“What if I were turned on by seemingly innocent words,” she reads in a playful tone. “Such as scumble, pinky or extrapolate?”
The surprisingly seductive poem is one you might hear when Armantrout reads from her book at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, at the Saville Theatre. She's one of the authors appearing at this year's San Diego City College international Book Fair, happening Friday, Sept.24, through Oct. 2 at City College (sdcitybookfair.com).
Armantrout doesn't have any big, lofty goals for her work. She thinks her role as a poet, and the role of any poet these days, is simply to get people to contemplate things and, more importantly, take their time when doing so.
“[Our] role is to help people hear things critically and to slow people down when they deal with language,” Armantrout says, “because people absorb language so carelessly from television, from politicians…. Good poetry encourages you to slow down and think, What does this mean? That's something that I think it behooves us to do.”
Civil disobedience: If Henry David Thoreau's writings haven't inspired you in some little way, you're hopelessly apathetic. The rousing works of the poet/naturalist/rebel will be brought to life in Ripples from Walden Pond: An Evening with Henry David Thoreau,a world-premiere reading by Richard Platt with the help of the Write Out Loud crew. The Walden Pond worshiping will happen at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 4, at Old Town Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St. $15. writeoutloudsd.com
Pretty maze: The UCSD campus is insanely complicated, but getting lost amid the concrete buildings and eucalyptus trees isn't all that bad. Those who appreciate the interesting art and architecture of UCSD will be glad to know there's a book based on these very themes. Dirk Sutro will discuss his book, University of California, San Diego: The Campus Guide, at the opening of a similarly themed art exhibit at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29, in the Geisel Library on campus. It's all part of the school's 50th-anniversary celebration, which you can find out about at 50th.ucsd.edu.
War is real: The Book Works is a local independent bookstore that's become famous for presenting more challenging author events than some of its romance-novel-prone counterparts. At 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, the book shop continues its tradition with a reading by Thomas Reifer, one of three authors of The Torturer, a collection of essays on how its up to society as a whole to hold torturers accountable. The Book Works is at 2670 Via de la Valle in Del Mar. book-works.com
On the world: Author and UCSD biologist Christopher Wills' globe-trotting exploits are at the center of his new book about ecology, evolution and the importance of protecting the planet's biodiversity. Wills went from the Lembeh Strain in Indonesia to the island of Yap and a few places in between for The Darwinian Tourist, which he'll sign and discuss at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, at D.G. Wills Books, 7461 Girard Ave. in La Jolla. See all the authors whom the always-awesome Dennis Wills has in store for you this year at dgwillsbooks.com.
To Africa: At 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, Africa and Beyond (1250 Prospect St. in La Jolla) will present a dual book signing. For years, Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith have been photographing the vanishing way of life of the indigenous peoples of Africa. They'll discuss their book, Dinka: Legendary Cattle Keepers of Sudan. And, authors Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng and Benjamin Ajak will discuss They Poured Fire on us from the Sky: The story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan. Must RSVP by calling 858-454- 9983. africaandbeyond.com