What if I were turned on by seemingly innocent words such as
What if I maneuvered conversation in the hope that others would
pronounce these words?
Perhaps the excitement would come from the way the other person
touched them lightly and carelessly with his tongue.
What if “of” were such a hot button?
“Scumble of bushes.”
What if there were a hidden pleasure
in calling one thing
by another’s name?
A bewitching little poem, that perfectly showcases Armantrout’s abiding fascination with the intricacies and intimacies of the language, the quality of her attention, the way words and phrases, placed in her deft hands, take on a vitality one never suspected they had. R.S. Thomas, you may remember, wrote of the poet learning “how to assemble / With more skill the arbitrary parts / Of ode or sonnet” but Armantrout’s poems work the other way, taking the poem apart into its component parts, as though one way to study time were to disassemble the clocks and examine each cog with careful attention. In poems like this one, Armantrout places everyday speech under a multi-colored microscope, discovering a universe of nuance and detail that is both delightful and treacherous.
Armantrout’s reading comes to your courtesy of Poets.org, which also features other Armantrout poems, including an audio recording of ‘Yonder’ here. You can also find a treasure trove of Armantrout readings over at the Kenyon Review, as well as new poems by her in The New Yorker and in mark(s)