Readings in Contemporary Poetry

Jorie Graham

Introduction by Brighde Mullins

It is a characteristic of Jorie Graham's poems that they drive us beyond our coordinates. Her poems possess superabundancies and are a call to the visual forces that impel her mind. As Yeats writes, "I call to the eye of the mind." Aristotle deemed that stories require a beginning, a middle and an end (a Plot) and Godard revised the formula by pointing out that the beginning, the middle and end, while still necessary, need not occur necessarily in that order. Jorie Graham's work is equally obsessed with order and chaos, with sequence and consequence.

Her non-chronological narrative has a sense of simultaneity and concurrence that is at the the base of all action -- verbal and gestural. The rhetorical gesture, the logic behind her texts is an exploration of these currents. Around the word "text" is the fossil presence of its etymology -- from the verb to weave, the idea of the text as a fabric is a recurring metaphor. These lines are from "Over and Over Stitch":

"Late in the season, the world digs in, the fat blossoms
hold still for just a moment longer.
Nothing looks satisfied,
but there is no real reason to move on much further: this isn't a bad place,
why not pretend we wished for it?"--

later in the poem she writes of "...lives being snatched up like dropped stitches, the dry stalks of daylilies/ marking a stillness we can't keep." Throughout Graham's work there is a sense of marking time, of waiting, of acquiescing; there is a strong meditative texture that informs her project. Her poems take place in seemingly object-based terrains--in hotels, in fields, in museums, at kitchen tables -- but things are red-herrings for Graham, they are levers to transcendence. Emerson writes of the "tyrannous eye of the Poet," and the Poet's transmogrification of the outward and visible to the inward and the invisible. This mental landscape, where the eye is still at work, still looking, at the imageless, this conundrum is where Graham leads us. These lines are from her collection Materialism -- the title is a nod to material, to fabric, a metaphor that is redolent throughout her work. Her engagement with the tangible, the material, and the intangible, the invisible, are articulated in these lines:

"I see it from here and then I see it from here -- Is there a new way of looking?" She asks --