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National Book Critics Circle Awards Announced, UC San Diego Poet
Rae Armantrout Wins for Poetry

March 12, 2010

By Inga Kiderra


University of California, San Diego poet Rae Armantrout has won the 2009 award from the National Book Critics Circle for “Versed” (Wesleyan University Press). The awards were announced March 11 at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium in New York.

Armantrout’s 10th collection of poems, “Versed” was cited by the NBCC “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.”

“Versed” was also selected as a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award.

A professor of writing and literature at UC San Diego for more than two decades, Armantrout heads up the Department of Literature’s writing section and is the author of 10 books of poetry, including “Versed,” “Next Life,” “Up to Speed,” and “Veil: New and Selected Poems.”


“Versed”  is a double collection: the first section plays with vice and versa, the second confronts the poet’s experience with cancer, “shot through,” according to her publisher, “with her signature wit and stark unsentimental thinking.”

Guggenheim Fellow in Poetry (2008), Armantrout is a native Californian whose poems are masterful contradictions; according to Robert Creeley, her poems have “a quiet and enabling signature.” He adds, “I don’t think there’s another poet writing who is so consummate in authority and yet so generous to her readers and company alike.”

Poet and critic Ron Silliman wrote in his blog: “Trying to read a book by Rae Armantrout in a single sitting is like trying to drink a bowl of diamonds. What’s inside is all so shiny & clear & even tiny that it appears perfectly do-able. But the stones are so hard & their edges so chiseled that the instant you begin they’ll start to rip your insides apart.”

Armantrout came up as a poet in the Bay Area, educated at UC Berkeley (AB, 1970), where she studied with poet Denise Levertov, and San Francisco State (MA, 1975). Subsequently, she was at the center of the first generation of Language Poets, the group in the U.S. most often credited with introducing poetry to post-modernity.

Since then, Armantrout has forged a growing international reputation. Many of her poems have been anthologized, including recently in: “Best American Poetry” of 2002, 2005, 2007, and 2009, “American Hybrid,” “Poems of the Women’s Movement,” “The Oxford Book of American Poetry” and “Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology.” Her work also makes regular appearances in newspapers and magazines, including, again recently, in The New Yorker, Poetry, Conjunctions, Partisan Review and the LA Times.
In 2000, a collection of critical writings on Armantrout’s work, “A Wild Salience,” was published by Burning Deck.

At UC San Diego, in addition to teaching poetry and poetics to graduate and undergraduate students, she has directed the New Writing Series of readings and lectures since 1989.

Last year, UC San Diego Dean of Arts and Humanities Seth Lerer, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Literature, won the 2008 award for criticism for his work, “Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter.” 

Media Contact: Inga Kiderra, 858-822-0661 or ikiderra@ucsd.edu

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