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Rae Armantrout






Process Narrative

Rae Armantrout begins most of her poems by hand, in a notebook, filling pages with what she refers to as “illegible text” to initiate the drafting process. Prior to the advent of personal computers, she would remain in the handwriting phase much longer before eventually transferring her work to the page via an IBM Selectric typewriter. However, Armantrout’s current process now involves typing up early drafts on an iPad once they begin to cohere, then emailing them to herself or to her friend and fellow poet, Ron Silliman–the former action serving as a way to save various drafts, the latter as both correspondence and revision practice.

Armantrout will then repeat this process several times before transitioning to her at-home Dell computer. In this sense, Armantrout’s approach to drafting is hybridized: she consistently relies on a flow of physical writing, typed transcription, and digital revision to move from lines and scraps into a finished poem.

Once she begins working on the computer, Armantrout uses .docx file formatting for saving drafts–sometimes saving over as she progresses with each poem, but also frequently printing out hard copies of drafts and including them in her physical files (which eventually she plans to archive in a library). A self-proclaimed “poor curator of her own history,” Armantrout is less inclined towards frequent file back-ups. While some files do get saved on a zip drive, the majority are saved in the form of emails to Silliman and other correspondents.

As she begins to collect finished poems towards a collection, Armantrout prints out hard copies and assembles them in thesis binders. The purpose of the binders is twofold: it provides safe storage for the manuscript-in-progress, and also gives Armantrout a hands-on means by which to experiment with ordering and re-ordering poems within an evolving collection. Her local revision priorities often revolve around sound, and take place at the word level. As for completing an entire manuscript, Armantrout always strives to achieve connections that are at once “perceptible” and “surprising” to the reader.

Armantrout’s literary life and community–including her collaboration with Silliman–began in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s. When she moved to San Diego and eventually began teaching at UCSD, Armantrout established many of the correspondence practices that remain integral to her current work. Both in terms of correspondence and poetic process, Armantrout is acutely aware of the difference that digital communications–in particular, the speed and instant gratification afforded by email versus paper letters–have made in her work.