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“Light Was On Its Way From Nothing To Nowhere”: Best Poems By Rae Armantrout

According to the Poetry Foundation,

Rae Armantrout, one of the founding members of the West Coast group of Language poets, stands apart from other Language poets in her lyrical voice and her commitment to the interior and the domestic. Born in Vallejo, California, Armantrout earned her BA at the University of California, Berkeley—where she studied with Denise Levertov—and she earned her MA at San Francisco State University. The author of more than ten collections of poetry, Armantrout has also published a short memoir, True (1998). Her Collected Prose was published in 2007. Her most recent collections include Versed (2009), which won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and a 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award, and was a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award; Itself (2015); Partly: New and Selected Poems (2016); Entanglements (2017); and Wobble (2018), a finalist for the National Book Award.

Suggested read: 14 Unrequited Love Poems That Are Sure To Resonate With You

In today’s post, we will looking at some of the best poems by Rae Armantrout.

Poems by Rae Armantrout

  1. Accounts

Light was on its way

from nothing

to nowhere.

Light was all business

        Light was full speed

when it got interrupted.

Interrupted by what?

When it got tangled up

and broke

into opposite

       broke into brand new things.

       What kinds of things?

       Drinking Cup

              “Thinking of you!

                          Convenience Valet”

How could speed take shape?



Do you want me to start over?


The fading laser pulse

        Information describing the fading laser pulse

is stored

        is encoded

in the spin states

of atoms.


is balancing his checkbook

        God is encrypting his account.

This is taking forever!

  1. Asymmetries

I’m thinking about you and you’re humming while cutting a piece of wood.

I’m positive you aren’t thinking about me which is fine as long as you

aren’t thinking about yourself. I know and love the way you inhabit

this house and the occasions we mutually create. But I don’t know

the man you picture when you see yourself walking around

the world inside your head and I’m jealous

of the attention you pay that person

whom I suspect

of being devious.

  1. Attention


is the mother tongue.

Can you colonize rejection

by phrasing your request,

                                       “Me want?”

Song: “I’m not a baby.

         Wa, Wa, Wa.

         I’m not a baby.

         Wa, Wa, Wa.

         I’m crazy

         like you.”

The “you”

in the heart of

molecule and ridicule.

Marks resembling

the holes

in dead leaves

define the thing (moth wing).

That flutter

of indifference,


But if lapses

are the dens

strategy aims

to conceal,

then you don’t know

what you’re asking.

  1. Background information


There’s a lot going on in


zombie apocalypse.

But wouldn’t she recognize

that her mother

was a zombie?

I mean zombies

are a thing.


The last thing she did

was point

to one corner of the ceiling

with a horrified stare.

The nurse called this “a seizure.”

As if words

drained experience

of content and continued

to accumulate.

As if words

were sealed containers

stored for safe keeping.

The background

is everything

that, for now,

can be safely


Suggested read: #NaPoWriMo These Poems Will Break Your Heart In The Most Beautiful Of Ways

  1. Eyes 

After John Milton

Our light is never spent.

Is spent.

Thus have we scooped out

maceration reservoirs.

We will blaze forth

what remains

as pixels.

Great angels

fly at our behest

between towers,

along axons and dendrites,

so that things stand

as they stand

in the recruited present.

  1. Confidential

Shooting pleasures

Ok’d by

My being seen


Or as



Not just light

at the end of the tunnel,

but hearts, bows, rainbows—

all the stickers

teachers award if pleased.


Pigeons bathe in technicolor

fluid “of a morning.”


If I was banging

my head with a shoe,

I was just exaggerating—

like raising my voice

or the ante.


on iron gratings:

Can it be

a flourish is a grimace,

but a grimace isn’t a flourish?


On the inscribed surface

of sleep.

Almost constant

bird soundings.

“Aloha, Fruity Pebbles!”

Music, useful

for abstracting emphasis.

Sweet nothing

to do with me.

  1. Control

We are learning to control our thoughts,

to set obtrusive thoughts aside.

It takes an American

to do really big things.

Often I have no thoughts to push against.

It’s lonely in a song

about outer space.

When I don’t have any thoughts,

I want one!

A close-up reveals

that she has chosen

a plastic soap dish

in the shape of a giant sea turtle.

Can a thought truly be mine

if I am not currently thinking it?

There are two sides

to any argument;

one arm

in each sleeve.

Maybe I am always meditating,

if by that you mean

searching for a perfect


  1. Eden


About can mean near

or nearly.

A book can be about something

or I can be about

to do a thing

and then refrain.

To refrain is to stop yourself.

A refrain

is a repeated phrase.


This table is an antique

from the early Machine Age.

The indented

circle within a circle


which appears

at three-inch intervals

around the base

may be a nod

to craftsmanship

or may be a summary

dismissal of same.

It is charming

in its mute simplicity.


People will ask, “Why should we care about this unattractive character?”

despite the fact that turning yourself into an admirable character

has been considered gauche for as long as I can recall.

The word “transparent” is often affixed to such efforts

while the mystification surrounding the unflattering self-portrait

at least provides some cover.

Now someone will say, “You don’t need cover

unless you’re standing naked at a window

shouting, ‘Look up here!'”

  1. The Job

Attending to verbal constructs

makes care long-term,

not acute,

which is for the best

because, though flawed,

each one is salvageable

or replaceable

unlike my flesh.

Words can be compared

with moments,

houses, trees, wires,

wires, trees, houses.

All stand

on their marks.


there’s a lot of overlap.

I move my eyes

to make time.

I take their measure

and create a duplicate.

  1. Exit Row 

You will buy your life

as a series

of “experiences”

to which you

will belong.

Have a good flight.

Do you believe

in reproduction?

Do you think this

upland of clouds,

white buttes cut

by shadow canyons,

shapely and boundless

as the body

you were promised,

will reappear

after you’re gone?

Boarding all zones at this time.

  1. Language of love

There were distinctive

dips and shivers

in the various foliage,


almost cadenced in the way

that once made him invent



Now the boss could say


and mean something

like “I’ll pinch.”

By repeating the gesture exactly

the woman awakened

an excited suspicion

in the infant.

When he awakened

she was just returning from

one of her little trips.

It’s common to confuse

the distance

with flirtation:

that expectant solemnity

which seems to invite a kiss.


He stroked her carapace

with his claw.

They had developed a code

in which each word appeared to refer

to some abdicated function.

Thus, in a department store,

Petite Impressions might neighbor

Town Square.

But he exaggerated it

by mincing

words like “micturition,”

setting scenes

in which the dainty lover

would pretend to leave.


Was it sadness or fear?

He still wasn’t back.

The act of identification,

she recognized,

was always a pleasure,

but this lasting difference

between sense and recognition

made her unhappy

or afraid.

Once she was rewarded

by the beams

of headlights flitting

in play.

  1. Covers

The man
slapped her bottom
like a man did
in a video,

then he waited
as if for shadow
to completely cover the sun.

Moments later
archeologists found him.


The idea that they were reenacting something which had been staged in the first place bothered her. If she wanted to go on, she’d need to ignore this limp chronology. She assumed he was conscious of the same constraint. But she almost always did want to proceed. Procedure! If only either one of them believed in the spontaneity of the original actors and could identify with one. Be one. For this to work, she reasoned, one of us would have to be gone.

“Well, look who missed
the fleeting moment,”

Green Giant gloats
over dazed children.

If to transpose
is to know,

we can cover our losses.

But only
If talking,

Formerly food,

Now meant
Not now

So recovery
Ran rings.

If to traverse
is to envelop,

I am held
and sung to sleep.

  1. Mistakes  


The subject will claim

that she has been taken

to the wrong place.

That the room

she is brought back to

is not the room she left.

That these comings and goings

are happening

to someone else,

are gathering momentum

controlled by a secret


That she needs to tell



I walk out the door

to the stone bench

without meaning to

(without meaning it?),

each step

jarring my frame

as it would anyone’s.

Suggested read: Pink In Your Color And Other Poems By Amy King

This is all we have on today’s post on the Best Poems By Rae Armantrout. This is, however, not an exhaustive list, and if we have missed out on some of your favorites, then please feel free to add them in the comment section below.

Until next time!

Featured image source: Instagram 

In today's post, we will looking at some of the best poems by Rae Armantrout.
Riya Roy

Riya Roy

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.” This Isaac Asimov line, embraces my love for writing in the finest and most desperate way that it is and should be! I was tormented by the earnestness of the written word not very early in my journey. But once smitten, it has helped me devour life twice over; savoring the moment and indulging in its memories. As a flâneuse, I wander to understand the intricacies of human relationships. Realizing that, they are just different manifestations of the same feeling of love, has been my greatest learning. I seek to share its opulence through the words I type.