Quinn Latimer’s Rumored Animals

We could not read any other poet and have the experience that we have reading Latimer.

Quinn Latimer

Rumored Animals, winner of the American Poetry Journal book prize and published by Dream Horse Press in 2012, is the first volume by Quinn Latimer, and it positions her as one of a new generation of poets who belongs to no school and obeys no rules as to what should or should not be done in poetry. Latimer’s verse echoes Donne, Woolf, Ashbery, Graham, Hillman, Glück, and others. We find metaphysics, refusal of self, evisceration of self, confession, exploration of the psychological self’s relationship with the physical world, constructivism, and determinism. Latimer does, however, have preferred techniques that she uses to produce tension in her poems, including the remarkable use of imagery (in the Poundian sense) and gestures that stem from the philosophy of skepticism, which are sometimes less successful.


Tracing the presence of different schools of poetry in Latimer’s work is rewarding for the reader, because there are so many woven throughout. Although, in general, Latimer is an anti-narrative poet, some poems contain chunks of narrative that hold other parts of the poem—and other poems in the book that have no narrative elements—in a kind of heliocentric orbit that it is difficult to imagine them existing without. Similarly, although Latimer seems to be a free verse poet at heart, one of the strongest poems in the collection, “Idols that Did Call and Call and Call Your Name,” uses a repetitive technique—a form of psalmic parallelism—which was a favorite techinique of one of our language’s greatest formalists, W.B. Yeats. Latimer writes:


. . . . My brother and I would take
The freeway through the valley to find you.
To leave you, we drove through the valley.
My father called to say the coast was burning. Take
The valley, he said . . . .
She is a poet who knows that magic can happen when a reader wavers between understanding and misapprehension. In “Idols,” as in other poems in the volume, we cannot know the exact situation being referred to, if there is one at all. But we know that we are reading a poem of loss. The mood is carried in the incantatory language, in a few telling lines such as “When we went down to the river // You were still alive” and “The book-lined sky: // It fell,” and in the closing imagery:
. . . two children calling
You down from the water. Down from the valley.
Down from the freeway that cuts across the fields
With its dull, damaging thrum. Down from the bottles leaning
Brokenly against each other. Down from the shattered
Idols that did call and call and call your name.
What Latimer offers is the opportunity to spend a few hours delightfully bewildered, in a place in which we don’t know what will happen next. She consistently produces images of a complex, unexpected variety. If preparation can hold water, if fish can tear through the trees, if a mouth can lie on the ground torn and bruised, if words themselves can fall asleep on a hill—then we are reading a Quinn Latimer poem.
Her poems produce images not just in the pictorial sense, but in the Poundian sense of disparate ideas, emotions, and moments brought together into the same space. When such poems are successful, as Latimer’s are, they provide (in Pound’s words) “that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth.” The opening poem of Rumored Animals, “Brush Fire,” announces Latimer’s proficiency in Poundian image (arriving in her poetry after passing through Lowell and Plath):
. . . . On the cool ground
beneath a tree, my mouth
lies torn and bruised
among the fruit, my face
is beautiful without it,
closed and white as a moon.
Latimer seems to have only one rule: lazy writing will not be tolerated, expected images will not appear, and neither will easily anticipated trajectories.
Aside from her distinctive use of imagery, the poet’s most common gestures involve philosophical skepticism. Sylvia Plath visited this territory in her work, and Jorie Graham has been treading it repeatedly for decades. Skeptics question whether they know with certainty of the existence of the external world and of themselves and others within it—the lines between self and world are blurred. Philosopher Stanley Cavall points out that Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Coriolanus, and Lear all turn away from the world that cannot be known with certainty rather than feeling it out in thought and/or words. Since the modernist period, however, poetry has proven remarkable in its ability to enact in words the relationship between the mind and the uncertain world; like her predecessors, Latimer forces her speakers to encounter that uncertainty head-on and either conquer it or be conquered by it.
At times, this technique does not come across as particularly exciting to avid readers of contemporary poetry, because the tension between self and world that such philosophy explores is nothing new in poetry. In “Slander,” for example, Latimer writes, “Everything was lit the same by my idea of you: the birds, // the grass, the sky.” This is similar to many moments in Graham, such as this one from “Making a Living”: “. . . imagine me / a kind of sunlight rising over / every hill.”
In spite of some similarities, however, we could not read any other poet and have the experience that we have reading Latimer. Her images are remarkably strong, the movements of her poems are a constant source of surprise, and her obvious love of language overrides allegiance to any school of poetry. Her poems—and, in fact, this collection as a whole—thrive on what Todorov would call a “sustentation,” never letting up from the first poem to the last, keeping us simultaneously in suspense and surprised.


The Ezra Pound quote is from Make it New (Faber & Faber, 1934).
Philosophy of skepticism is explained in relation to contemporary poetry in Thomas Gardner’s Regions of Unlikeness: Explaining Contemporary Poetry (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1999).

More Quinn Latimer

Buy Rumored Animals at Amazon.com.
Read all of “Idols that Did Call and Call and Call Your Name” in Toad.
Read Keith Montesano’s interview with Latimer in First Book Interviews.

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