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Why I Chose Camille Guthrie’s Articulated Lair for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club

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Rumpus Poetry Book Club Board Member Camille Dungy discusses why she chose Camille Guthrie’s Articulated Lair for January’s Rumpus Poetry Book Club.

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To introduce her author note, Camille Guthrie quotes Louise Bourgeois, the artist at the center of her book. “You can stand anything,” says Bourgeois, “if you write it down. My complaint about language is that it is perfect, indispensable, but not enough. It doesn’t say everything.” Indeed, language does not, cannot, say everything. Too often in ekphrastic and biographically-based poetry, the poet tries to say everything, to tell us all there is to tell about an artist’s life and work. Rather than standing as independent works of art, such poems come to resemble the dullest of obituaries. They might contain elaborate descriptions of a thing, but the descriptions are not the least bit vivid. Too often, these dense poems end up not giving me “enough.” I have no such complaint about Camille Guthrie’s Articulated Lair: Poems for Louise Bourgeois.

One of the things I admire most about Articulated Lair is that Guthrie does not require her poems to tell us all there is to know about Bourgeois or her oeuvre. She does not ask language to say everything. In fact, Guthrie seems to revel in gaps and silences, the nuances occasioned by what cannot or will not be directly articulated. Guthrie creates poetry within these gaps. She builds her poems around them. She emboldens my ear as it “imagines/ the tenor of the unsaid” (Cell IV), and she guides me as I begin to perceive Bourgeois in a new light.

These poems are not traps, but safe spaces with doors inside them. Just the way Bourgeois liked her lairs. Their very construction reveals what we need to know. Guthrie’s poems are simultaneously airy (due in part to the relatively short lines and the abundance of white space) and steely (due to the multi-dimensional heft of the words Guthrie employs). The opening lines of the poem Fillette begin thus: “Reality I want/ not rigid like a grid/ and not limp, but / accurate as the entrails of a rabbit/ mischievous as a monkey coat.” In Articulated Lair: Poems for Louise Bourgeois, Guthrie has created a new reality which manages to express both Bourgeois’ vision and her own. As Thomas Sayers Ellis says in the jacket copy, “Articulated Lair is wiser and wider than a retrospective.” These poems have more legs than one of Bourgeois’ spiders and, too, they are a marvel to behold.


Camille T. Dungy is author of Smith Blue; Suck on the Marrow; and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison. She is also editor of Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, co-editor of From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great, and assistant editor of Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade. Dungy has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Cave Canem, the Dana Award, and Bread Loaf, is the winner of the 2011 American Book Award, a two-time recipient of the Northern California Book Award, and silver medal winner in the 2011 California Book Award. A two-time NAACP Image Award nominee, she has been shortlisted for the 2011 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award, the 2011 Balcones Poetry Prize, the PEN Center USA 2007 Literary Award, and the Library of Virginia 2007 Literary Award. Dungy is currently a professor in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University. Her poems and essays have been published widely in anthologies and print and online journals. http://www.camilledungy.com/ More from this author →