Rae Armantrout won The Pulitzer Prize for poetry on Monday.  She won the National Book Foundation Award in Poetry in March.  She probably wasn’t even trying.

Armantrout has been a West Coast secret for about three decades.  She is called “concise” and “witty.” and regarded as a Language Poet.  As any truly great poet must be, she is fearless.  The collection that brought her 2010’s greatest American honors in poetry is called “Versed,” as in made acquainted with, as in adrenal cortical cancer which Ms. Armantrout survived, apparently by looking at it from every angle, knowing it precisely and considering herself its equal on the page. “ Versed” is also about the war in Iraq, something we are all versed in if we are at all awake in America.

There is vice and there is versa and there is versed. As someone who makes connections as instinctively as other people blink, Ms. Armantrout considers all three.  And then she observes and writes and collects and sews her poetic understanding into poems which are matched in ways that don’t exactly match, but do form something hefty and real and ultimately recognizable—like a quilt that has been patterned after human consciousness.

Here is what she says about that in an interview given after receiving the National Book Award:

I take a blank book with me—I’ve got it in my hand right now—and I make notes about things I see or think or hear or read or watch on TV. Once in a while a poem falls out from top to bottom, mostly, they’re a pastiche of these notes I make. Eventually I realize there’s some relation between parts—one concept echoes a concept somewhere else in the notebook. I put the things that seem related together, play with the order, then revise. Other times, I’ll come up with one idea or one part I’ll get really interested in and then I’ll go out and look and see what I can find that relates to it. Sometimes that might take a couple of weeks. Usually I can get it, but I have to be stubborn. I’m sort of a collector. I go out and collect bits.

This seems quintessentially female to us– this resourcefulness, this stitching together from what is at hand and what can be found.  This making a stew of words or a patchwork that will warm us when a chill wind blows.

The Pulitzer committee chose to honor a woman of a certain age again this year (last year it was the breathtakingly quirky Heather McHugh).  We like to think this means awards committee are realizing what we at Women’s Voices for Change believe is a truth that will set us all free:  older women can see beyond the surface into the places where the truths are stored.  They’ve got the strength to go after them and the wiles to see the job through until others get what is too often buried beneath what doesn’t matter at all.

Here’s to Rae Armantrout.  Long may she collect, connect and write for us all.

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