Jorie Graham

The Poetry of Jorie Graham
by J. Zimmerman

* Books by Jorie Graham:

* Helen Vendler on Jorie Graham.
* Bio of Jorie Graham.

Dream of the Unified Field by Jorie Graham.

1995 retrospective.

The End of Beauty (1987) by Jorie Graham.
In this book, Helen Vendler writes, Jorie Graham makes a "definitive break with short-lined lyrics" and "to write a poetry of middleness, of suspension, is Graham's chief intellectual and emotional preoccupation in The End of Beauty. ... she defers closure in many poems by a series of ever-approaching asymptotic gestures, each one of them numbered, and each advancing the plot by a micro-measure ... [like] the cinematic freeze-frame ... her numerically interrupted frames say 'Look at yourself for a frozen moment; write it down. Gaze again; write it down. and now glance a third time; and write it down.' The alternations of consciousness as the pen succeeds the gaze are not concealed; rather they are inscribed on the page, number by succeeding number."

The Errancy by Jorie Graham.

Materialism (1993) by Jorie Graham.
This is the last book reviewed in Helen Vendler on Jorie Graham.

Vendler says that here Graham "combines the long line with its apparently ultimate narrative partner, the long sentence. Since the long horizontal line of extension in space toward the horizon is itself already formally effortful, it becomes even more especially taxing when it is joined to the long sentence (the conventional equivalent of temporal and conceptual complexity)."

"In order to maintain itself, this long-lined and outrider long sentence depends on several grammatical techniques of prolongation - present participles, appositions, relative clauses both adjectival and adverbial, parenthetical insertions, a colon, additive conjunctions like 'and,' negations, comparisons ('as if'), contemporalities ('also'), successivities ('then' and 'just before'), repetitions ('now ... now'), qualifications, and nominal simultaneities ('these walls these streets the light the shadow in them / the throat of the thing')."

Never by Jorie Graham.
I spent one WHOLE day reading Never. It is 'about' time - one of the subjects that interests me very deeply. While reading her poems I focused on (and in fact made note of) her words that relate to time. (Obviously all verbs are 'about' time on one level, so I excluded those.) With that concern of finding words, I had to read her very poems attentively.

That attention, like a meditation, stopped my mind from detouring into some of the usual distractions of a Jorie Graham poem, and avoided asking:

She usually has something in the real world in each poem, to balance her mental gymnastics, and I specially liked her most coherent poems which are in section 2, whose material is about the ocean.

Overlord by Jorie Graham.

Region of Unlikeness (1991) by Jorie Graham.
Vendler sees this book as continuing the use of the long line as in The End of Beauty, but dropping "the open numbered space, which had represented being-in-pause". Also "the gaze turns to single autobiographical self-portrait (which replaces mythical dual self-portrait), and the plot of narrative replaces bundled quanta of perception."

Place (2012) by Jorie Graham.

Some of the poems (especially the opening poem, "Sundown") make good use of Graham's long-versus-short-line stanzas. These poems are better read aloud, to slow down the reader to take in the complex and layered material.

Swarm by Jorie Graham.

Helen Vendler on Jorie Graham: The Breaking of Style.

Vendler studies Graham's work at the level of the line: "Historically, the line has been the characteristic unit distinguishing poetry from prose; it is the most sensitive barometer of the breath-units in which poetry is voiced."

"Jorie Graham began as a writer of short poems in short lines... And then, with a burst of almost tidal energy, Graham began to publish long poems in long lines, poems that pressed toward an excess nearly uncontained by the page."

Graham's short-line poetic form "above all represents deliberation. ... Step by step, accreting perceptions ... [This] represents ... a faith in the power of the patient mind. ... that it is the poet's duty to take the symbolic through the beautiful into the true is not in doubt."

"The long line, therefore, is first generated by Graham as the formal equivalent of morality, dissolution, and unmeaning."

In The End of Beauty, "The long line, therefore, is first generated by Graham as the formal equivalent of morality, dissolution, and unmeaning."

Time and again, Vendler qualifies her statements with small adverbs (often the tiny 'almost' or 'nearly'), as if she wants to claim not only a statement but also its opposite, e.g. writing of Graham's short lines when she began writing poetry: "one's heart, reproducing these poems, almost found a new way to beat." Vendler is saying that she thought hers did, but then found it didn't. As a further hint to reading Vendler, ignore such statements: don't worry about her feebleness; don't waste time speculating what Vendler really thinks (and is shy of claiming); what matters is what you think, so simply use her book as a tool for your own opinions.

See also our blog of "Jorie Graham: The Moment of Excess" in The Breaking of Style by Helen Vendler. Her book is a set of three essays analyzing the changes in the work of three poets, the changes being on a scale of decades (Hopkins), days (Heaney), and instances (Graham).

Arbitrary Elements of the Bio of Jorie Graham.

Links and Books.

[Thanks for visiting.]