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Jorie Graham

1950–
Jorie Graham was born in New York City and raised in Rome, Italy. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris before attending New York University as an undergraduate, where she studied filmmaking. She received an MFA in Poetry from the University of Iowa.
 
Graham is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Fast: Poems (Ecco, 2017), From the New World: Poems 1976-2014 (Ecco, 2015), Place: New Poems (Ecco, 2012), Sea Change (Ecco, 2008), Never (Ecco, 2002), Swarm (Ecco, 2000), and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994 (Ecco, 1997), which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
 
About her work, James Longenbach writes in the New York Times: “For 30 years Jorie Graham has engaged the whole human contraption—intellectual, global, domestic, apocalyptic—rather than the narrow emotional slice of it most often reserved for poems. She thinks of the poet not as a recorder but as a constructor of experience. Like Rilke or Yeats, she imagines the hermetic poet as a public figure, someone who addresses the most urgent philosophical and political issues of the time simply by writing poems.”
 
Graham has been hailed by John Ashbery as "one of the finest poets writing today" and by James Tate as "a poet of staggering intelligence." Tate adds that "her poems are constantly on the attack. She assays nothing less than the whole body of our history, reshaping myth in ways that risk new knowledge, fresh understanding of all that we might hope to be."
 
Graham has also edited two anthologies: Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language (Ecco, 1996) and The Best American Poetry 1990 (Scribner, 1990). Her many honors include a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship, the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003. In 2017, she received the Wallace Stevens Award, given annually to recognize outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.
 
She has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University.

Selected Bibliography

Fast: Poems (Ecco, 2017)
From the New World: Poems 1976-2014 (Ecco, 2015)
Place: New Poems (Ecco, 2012)
Sea Change (2008)
Never (2002)
Swarm (2000)
The Errancy (1997)
The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994 (Ecco, 1995)
Materialism (1993)
Region of Unlikeness (1991)
The End of Beauty (Ecco, 1987)
Erosion (1983)
Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts (Princeton University Press, 1980)

Jorie Graham
Photo credit: Didier Morel

By This Poet

9

San Sepolcro

In this blue light
     I can take you there,
snow having made me
     a world of bone
seen through to.  This
     is my house,

my section of Etruscan
     wall, my neighbor's
lemontrees, and, just below
     the lower church,
the airplane factory.
     A rooster

crows all day from mist
     outside the walls.
There's milk on the air,
     ice on the oily
lemonskins.  How clean
     the mind is,

holy grave.  It is this girl
     by Piero
della Francesca, unbuttoning
     her blue dress,
her mantle of weather,
     to go into

labor.  Come, we can go in.
     It is before
the birth of god.  No one
     has risen yet
to the museums, to the assembly
     line--bodies

and wings--to the open air
     market.  This is
what the living do: go in.
     It's a long way.
And the dress keeps opening
     from eternity

to privacy, quickening.
     Inside, at the heart,
is tragedy, the present moment
     forever stillborn,
but going in, each breath
     is a button

coming undone, something terribly
     nimble-fingered
finding all of the stops.

Prayer

Over a dock railing, I watch the minnows, thousands, swirl
themselves, each a minuscule muscle, but also, without the
way to create current, making of their unison (turning, re-
                                                infolding,
entering and exiting their own unison in unison) making of themselves a
visual current, one that cannot freight or sway by
minutest fractions the water's downdrafts and upswirls, the
dockside cycles of finally-arriving boat-wakes, there where
they hit deeper resistance, water that seems to burst into
itself (it has those layers) a real current though mostly
invisible sending into the visible (minnows) arrowing
                         motion that forces change--
this is freedom. This is the force of faith. Nobody gets
what they want. Never again are you the same. The longing
is to be pure. What you get is to be changed. More and more by
each glistening minute, through which infinity threads itself,
also oblivion, of course, the aftershocks of something
at sea. Here, hands full of sand, letting it sift through
in the wind, I look in and say take this, this is
what I have saved, take this, hurry. And if I listen
now? Listen, I was not saying anything. It was only
something I did. I could not choose words. I am free to go.
I cannot of course come back. Not to this. Never.
It is a ghost posed on my lips. Here: never.

Just Before

At some point in the day, as such, there was a pool.  Of
                                                         stillness.  One bent to brush one's hair, and, lifting
                                                         again, there it was, the
opening—one glanced away from a mirror, and there, before one's glance reached the
                                                         street, it was, dilation and breath—a name called out
                                                         in another's yard—a breeze from
                                                         where—the log collapsing inward of a sudden into its
                                                         hearth—it burning further, feathery—you hear it but you don't 
                                                         look up—yet there it
                                                         bloomed—an un-
learning—all byway no birthpain—dew—sand falling onto sand—a threat
                                                         from which you shall have
                                                         no reprieve—then the
reprieve—Some felt it was freedom, or a split-second of unearthliness—but no, it was far from un-
                                                         earthly, it was full of
                                                         earth, at first casually full, for some millennia, then
despertately full—of earth—of copper mines and thick under-leaf-vein sucking in of 
                                                         light, and isinglass, and dusty heat—wood-rings
                                                         bloating their tree-cells with more
life—and grass and weed and tree intermingling in the
                                                         undersoil—& the
                                                         earth's whole body round
                                                         filled with
                                                         uninterrupted continents of
                                                         burrowing—&earthwide miles of
                                                         tunnelling by the  
mole, bark bettle, snail, spider, worm—& ants making their cross-
                                                         nationstate cloths of
                                                         soil, & planetwide the
                                                         chewing of insect upon leaf—fish-mouth on krill, 
                                                         the spinning of
coral, sponge, cocoon—this is what entered the pool of stopped thought—a chain suspended in
                                                         the air of which
                                                         one link
                                                         for just an instant
                                                         turned to thought, then time, then heavy time, then
                                                         suddenly
air—a link of air!—& there was no standing army anywhere, 
                                                         & the sleeping bodies in the doorways in all
                                                         the cities of
                                                         what was then just
                                                         planet earth
were lifted up out of their sleeping
                                                         bags, & they walked
                                                         away, & the sensation of empire blew off the link
like pollen—just like that—off it went—into thin air—& the athletes running their 
                                                         games in Delphi entered the zone in the
long oval of the arena where you run in
                                                         shadow, where the killer crowd becomes
                                                         one sizzling hiss, where, 
coming round that curve the slowness
                                                         happens, & it all goes
                                                         inaudible, & the fatigue the urgent sprint the lust
                                                         makes the you
fantastically alone, & the bees thrum the hillsides, & all the blood that has been
                                                         wasted—all of it—gathers into deep coherent veins in the
                                                         earth
                                                         and calls itself
                                                         history—& we make it make
                                                         sense—
                                                         & we are asked to call it
                                                         good.  

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