Rae Armantrout was born in Vallejo, California, on April 13, 1947, and grew up in San Diego. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied with Denise Levertov, and a master's degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University.
She has published numerous books of poetry, including Wobble (Wesleyan University Press, 2018), which was a finalist for the National Book Award; Partly: New and Selected Poems, 2001–2015 (Wesleyan University Press, 2016); Itself (Wesleyan University Press, 2015); Versed (Wesleyan University Press, 2009), which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010; Next Life (Wesleyan University Press, 2007), selected by the New York Times as one of the most notable books of 2007; Up to Speed (Wesleyan University Press, 2004), a finalist for the PEN Center USA Award in Poetry; Veil: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2001), also a finalist for the PEN Center USA Award; Made To Seem (Sun & Moon Press, 1995); and The Invention of Hunger (Tuumba Press, 1979).
Part of the first generation of Language poets on the West Coast, her work has been praised for syntax that borders on everyday speech while grappling with questions of deception and distortion in both language and consciousness. About her poems, Robert Creeley has described “a quiet and enabling signature,” adding, “I don’t think there’s another poet writing who is so consummate in authority and yet so generous to her readers and company alike.”
In the preface to her selected poems, Veil, Ron Silliman describes her work as "the literature of the anti-lyric, those poems that at first glance appear contained and perhaps even simple, but which upon the slightest examination rapidly provoke a sort of vertigo effect as element after element begins to spin wildly toward more radical...possibilities."
Armantrout's poetry has been widely anthologized, appearing in Language Poetries, (New Directions), In The American Tree, (National Poetry Foundation), Postmodern American Poetry (W.W. Norton), Poems for the Millennium, Vol. 2 (University of California Press), American Women Poets of the 21st Century (Wesleyan University Press), and several editions of Best American Poetry. She is also the author of a prose memoir, True, which was published by Atelos in 1998.
She has taught writing for almost twenty years at the University of California, San Diego.