There is great and there is graceful. One does not always lead to or implicate the other, and there is the danger of de trop in both. For that matter, a poet should not be great, for greatness, or, for that matter, grace, can only lie in poetry. To borrow from Swift, Celia shits. As did Swift. And for that matter, poetry is also excretory, i.e., the given and the made. Still, there are those deeply happy times when all is in good measure, and the sweet spot is hit, or kissed, as you wish. And when the making becomes its own argument for the perpetration of something as essentially excessive as poetry. So it is with Money Shot. The book is not, save temporally, a follow-up to Versed (2009), which had the authority of autobiography, an authority to which many aspire, and more simply sign on for. Rather Money Shot is its own bank shot, all balls going right in the side (or breast) pocket. Note the measure of brutality in the breaking metaphor, for actual grace, like real life, is brutal, eviscerate.

They’re sexy
because they’re needy
which degrades them.

They’re sexy because
they don’t need you.

They’re sexy because they pretend
not to need you,

but they’re lying,
which degrades them.

They’re beneath you
and it’s hot.

They’re across the boarder,
rhymes with dancer—

they don’t need
to understand.

They’re content to be
(not mean),

which degrades them
and is sweet.

They want to be
the thing-in-itself

and the thing-for-you—

Miss Thing—

but can’t.

They want to be you,
but can’t,

which is so hot.

(“Soft Money”)

To be on point is to be terribly accurate, to be à point, to be bloody on the inside. The topological torques and warm red insides displayed in “Soft Money” are formally and thematically constant in this collection, as the typically short-line pieces plate-spin themes of fiscal emergency (circa early 21st c), imminent (and protracted) demise, sex (homespun and on demand), and the various procedures and apparatuses (material and linguistic) that dictate our everyday lives. While the poems seem to have been written while the US was in the fresher throes of its most recent collapse, what Armantrout duly and astringently underscores is that it’s not the crisis that’s new, just our endless surprise at the news (“What makes us human / is our tendency to point.” (“Working Models”)). Similarly, the aforementioned processes and apparatuses prove to be not only the stuff of what passes for eternity—eternity having, like everything else, a general shelf life—but the raw material of the Symbolic order.

Someone “just like me”
Is born
In the future
And I don’t feel a thing?

Like only goes so far.


The Symbolic Order being just so much sausage-casing, in any case. (“I write things down / to show others / later / or to show myself / that I am not alone with / my experience.” (“With”)) Though it must be noted in the register of materiality that the formal matter of language also includes its permutational properties and the practice that generates. Such that “Bubble Wrap” (“Want to turn on CNN, / see if there’ve been any/ disasters?”), for example, proves to be that with which you pack and in which we exist, like the housing bubble, primed to burst, like the boy in the bubble, pervious to all manner of ordinary pollution, like the bubble-clouds of our es-emplastic inter-net and inter-personal fancies. I’m conflating Imagination and Fancy here, pace Coleridge: Coleridge cast the Imagination as the es-emplastic active cognitive force, that which unifies the phenomenological stuff through pure will, regardless of the fixtures of memory or experience; the Fancy is passive, a receptacle of what’s cast in it, incapable of synthesis or the great thematic. But I think Armantrout might agree there’s not much between them these days, not with the way the screen-mirror works to make us in our own image: our imagined self is tethered to the stuff of us, stuff gathered and gleaned for public consumption, and yet is not bound to anything but its own self-reflective, self-generated view of what that stuff might make. The perceived self being in this sense the only real (or at least provable) deal, because that is the self that the world then mirrors back, an act of mutual regard that is not unlike the way capital works to make and unmake itself, rising and falling with the regularity of all empires. And so I see on facebook that I am a person to whom daily deals in Los Angeles might appeal (true) and who may be interested in GPS cat-tracking (false—though there is a bit of a pussy-theme), and who appears to be more or less popular, judging by the well-wishers on what may or may not be my birthday (true and false, for there’s no fact of me that’s pure facticity); I see on facebook that I am writing this on Rae Armantrout’s birthday (maybe true—who knows?). (“Custom content feed. // Let me tell you something personal. / As a child, I worried about quicksand. / I don’t know why I mention this.” (“Ground”)) “I” am because my facebook friends know “me.”

Put another way, Freud observed that the power of the phallus lies in its being hidden; Lacan pointed out that the phallus cannot help but be hidden, because it does not exist, save symbolically. The “money shot” in pornography is at once the proof that porn is “real” (men apparently can’t fake an orgasm, just as women can’t fake a raise) and that the penis is not the phallus. The penis thus stopped via the money shot is “Real” in the Lacanian sense of being simply meat that responds, like other meat, to both friction and fictions. The “money shot” in our economy similarly betrays the Real kernaled in our financial fantasies (also frictional), and for those of you who have forgotten, Lacan’s formula for fantasy is $ <> a, that is to say, the barred subject (the subject that is incomplete in itself) creates and is created by the <> the lozenge, the punched-out point, that lies between the $, and the objet petit a, that desire which is only the desire for (and of) desire that the $ insists could lead to fulfillment, but which is only insofar as it cannot be fulfilled because it does not exist save in its inexistence. In other words: “in the fantasy-scene the desire is not fulfilled, ‘satisfied’, but constituted (given its objects, and so on)&#8212 through fantasy, we learn ‘how to desire’.” (Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Desire. (London: Verso, 1989), p. 118.) Note that desire in Lacan, as in Armantrout, is considered an “economy.” Economies are to be husbanded, kept from and for the wife. Note how through this act of citation, I betray both my access to, and lack of, real authority (just as husband : wife). Note how Armantrout refers to all the authors around her as indiscriminately conspiratorial and constitutive: “outside / a child yells “Mom-my!” / again and again.” (“Human”); “In the departure gate, / the bag atop her bag spells / “Paradise”…” (“Cancellation”); “You are here” (from “Paragraph”). The child as author to the adult—the adult overhearing the child, who becomes an adult by way of comparison; the adult who is interlocuted as “Mommy” by virtue of the child’s call; the adult who remembers having been a child and yelling “Mom-my,” in the two-syllables of genuine need. The departure gate as ironic author—”Paradise” is a bag, not lost, not Edenic. The quotidian observation that I am where I am—that which acts as author of all authority, reminding me of my inability to escape the a priori—for whatever else I am, whatever category, I am, first, here. Note how the problem with all this authorship, this surfeit of authority, these various demands on us to make something of them becomes, for reader of signifiers, what to pay attention to (“You confuse / the image of a fungus // with the image of a dick / in my poem // (understandably)” (“The Gift”))—and where does this spendthrift attention end:

For I so loved the world

that I set up
my only son

to be arrested.


I.e., God, like other kinds of capital (and castration), is the fantasy that stops, the kind that says put your hands up and nobody move. And what Goethe knows and Armantrout shows is that this sort of stop is always the stop of a stopper, that is to say, something that acts as a plug—temporary, but with the tang of real Time. After all, what is Christ but eternity’s stop-gap? For his part, Faust went straight to hell once he said “stop,” i.e., tried to get a stay, just as the market will go skyward if it has its obliterating way (“can make a heaven of hell,” etc). Or, as Armantrout pouts: “Immediacy is retro / says Lytle.” (“Paragraph”) But remember: You are here.  There’s nothing saved by way of memory, for everything around you has already been, as you will be, spent. It is fate that will dilate.

As is obligatory to note, Armantrout is master/mistress of the short line. She’s best in this, however, with the short line that reads like a long line because it is less short than it is accordioned, i.e., sharper when compressed and rounder as expanded in the breath. Throughout the book, lines seem to be tossed exactly and easily, like someone juggling chainsaws, which, in principle, is no different from juggling soft squishy balls. Though one must be careful, or at least intentional, when putting balls adjacent to chainsaws. The best bad review of Versed (to be fair, there were only 2) on amazon was: “I read Versed in a bookstore, and I can’t figure out for the life of me why anyone would want to pay money for it.” Money Shot counters that money is, as it turns out, no object. It’s not money what needs to be paid to Armantrout (though she would doubtless object), but a pound of the softer, fleshier stuff, the sweetmeat of all our careful frightened attentions. Where else would you be?