Graham is among the best poets writing in English and her poems have changed,
both visually and in aspects of content, in a dramatic way—most evident from
one collection of poems to the next. Helen Vendler, in a book that studies the
changes in style of three different poets, theorizes that if “a poet puts off
an old style (to speak for a moment as if this were a deliberate undertaking),
he or she perpetrates an act of violence, so to speak, on the self”, (The
Breaking of Style, 1), and goes on
to apply this notion to Graham’s ever-expanding work. Vendler states in her
lecture Jorie Graham: The Moment of Excess that: “When a poem is deprived, in critical discussion, of its
material body—which is constituted by its rhythm, its grammar, its lineation,
or other such features—it exists only as a mere cluster of ideas, and loses its
physical, and therefore its aesthetic, distinctness” (The Breaking of Style, 71). Her specific interest is in Graham’s
individual line, which has metamorphosed from being short in early poems to
idiosyncratically long in more recent poems (those written before 1994 when
Vendler delivers the aforementioned lecture). “When a poet ceases to write
short lines,” she posits, “and starts to write long lines, that change is a
breaking of style almost more consequential, in its implications, than any
other” (The Breaking of Style,
72). Though Vendler subsequently makes some undeniable observations about
excess in Graham’s work, her basic supposition on the importance of style is
flawed, if only due to the fact that she does not account for the possibility
of Graham, at some point in the future, returning to short lines—or creating a
composition that depends on both long lines and short lines, as she has in her
most recent collection, Sea Change.
By recycling the
examples that Vendler offers in her study and adding a few others, it is clear
that what is significant, or most consequential in Jorie Graham’s work is not
lineation—long or short. The strength of her composition lies in a highly-evolved,
demanding addressee and the process by which she communicates with it, called,
for the sake of argument, vocative sublimity. The rhythm, grammar, lineation or
other such features are rendered differently by Graham depending on unknown
variables to the reader but what shapes those features into a whole, the
communication with the addressee that exists on the plane of poetic thinking,
is consistent. Vocative sublimity might better be defined as thus: “to be
knitted up, chainmail of vocables—link / by link— / till even the air all round
you suddenly seems to / shine—really now—there where it means, / or
means to mean, because mostly of course it is just talk…” (The Errancy, 75). No
better understanding of this process is to be found than, perhaps, those lines
that limn the geography of a poetic mind and attempt to fix a dialogue that is
at once clear and completely metaphysical. The philosopher, Martin Buber,
describes the effect of this kind of dialogue on thought and perception: “When
I confront a human being as my You and speak the basic word I-You to him, then
he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things…[n]eighborless and
seamless, he is You and fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but
he; but everything else lives in his light” (I and Thou, 59). In
Graham’s poetry, she is the “I” of Buber’s philosophy and her addressee is the
“You”, not as an exercise in egocentrism but in the dynamic of apprentice to
omniscient master, always questioning. It would be easy to mistake the object
of Graham’s poetry as multiple, as “You” in reality changes, but a prudent
position would be to view the object as a singular entity with the ability to
be all things at once—much like the relationship between a divinity and the
adherents of its cosmology. Her poems seem to state what she has observed and
beg notice of what she has observed, the better to question her addressee.
After reading about the photographs of Mongolia on view at Tibet House last month, Luke Meinzen sent along this piece about an experience he had during his tenure as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mongolia:
As a child, the closest I got to horses was a coin-operated mustang in
the grocery store. I was mostly indifferent to them, boyhood cowboy
phase excepted, until a history professor described the Mongol armies
that dominated Asia. Horsemen with a string of mounts pressed at
unprecedented speed across impossible territory. They struck quickly,
baiting opposing armies into outrunning their own supply lines and their
discipline. When the Mongols moved separate from their own herds, they
rotated horses to keep them fresh, opened veins to drink horse blood,
and culled the weakest for food.
Death is not the end when a poet dies. What we dearly miss is everything they have to tell us about the minutiae of life, about head colds and deadlines, restaurants and articles, embarrassments and triumphs. And gossip, always gossip—about our doings and others’. But the poems keep talking. They talk with even greater clarity and power, in fact, because they are no longer in process. They are finished. Yet like all good art, they continue to unfold, have things to say, even new things to say that we hadn’t heard before. from Able Muse. Read the complete essay here.
are delirious, staring at the sea. The slide
presentation featured the Deutsche Bahn AG then the attendees
took off their clothes… the news spread like
wildfire through the luxury liner – Ronald, stop
them! Don’t shout! Or give orders! We told the
passenger what the passenger wants. We’ve only
potted palms, and one wolf a year. Then all the
comedians disembark in San Diego.
That’s a tour
plan with a real future, though the Torture Room
is daunting, I agree, and I should say
that the ticket sale failed because of that.
They even want to set up cameras in the
bedrooms. We’ll all need visas, for this is the
land where hope turns to fear.
Here's another question from my autobiography in the form of an SAT test. After you've had a look at it, you can watch the explanatory video featuring the kind participation of my friend Alexandra.
Which of the following has Mitchell NEVER used as an alias?
a: Blatchford Sarnemington b: Al Farber c: Lou Belmont d: Donald Bruce e: The Kalashnikover Rebbe
Special Bonus! Do you ever have trouble waking your children up in the morning so they can get to school on time? The following video is a rock version of the Romanian national anthem sung by an aggregation of Romanian television personalities. Just play it at high volume and watch your kids come flying out of bed like pigeons escaping from a coop. And for you, the video can also be great for overcoming a case of the afternoon "blahs."
In a 1999 essay published in The Southern Review,
literary critic Laurence Goldstein implies Robert Hayden’s “Perseus” to be the
greatest poem in the world. Though it may not reach such titular extravagance
for me, it is my favorite Hayden poem and the reason why I continue to return
to him again and again.
Her sleeping head with its great gelid mass
serpents torpidly astir
into the mirroring shield—
scathing image dire
hated truth the mind accepts at last
struck. The shield flashed bare.
even as I lifted up the head
started from that place
gazing silences and terrored stone,
thirsted to destroy.
could have passed me then—
garland-bearing girl, no priest
staring boy—and lived.
is an important American poet and should be read more widely than he is. Reasons
for his marginalization arise from the racial divide that plagued (continues to
plague) American literary politics. Hayden was such an adept poet that he could
not be denied by the “white literary establishment” of mid-twentieth century
America and that acceptance made him an outcast among the rising Black Nationalist
literati of the same era. One had thought him rescued with the posthumous
publication of his Collected
Poemsin 1985 and its reintroduction by the venerable
Arnold Rampersad in 1996. His prominence, however, is still lacking—though for
my generation of Black American poets he is the undisputed heavyweight. Like
they love posters of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in February, white readers of
Hayden love “Those Winter Sundays”; and they love the one about Bessie Smith
because, well, who does “the blues” better than Black folk? But there is so
much more to Hayden! As Goldstein points out: “For a great-souled author like Hayden there can be no
question of choosing one realm, one racial history, rather than another. The
Perseus myth belongs exclusively neither to whites nor to blacks, but to all
races, because it illuminates the tragic experience of all races.” Hayden
knew the path through the desolation of human action and his true contribution
to the world was a poetics of peace. Reading him is to show him gratitude.
The bodyguards wear white The bullets fly towards them The bodyguards are clouds The bullets do not penetrate Kaddafi. The bullets are precipitation After we drink coffee, we check the bird feeders. Kaddafi has purple martins on his shoulders. The bodyguards are snowy egrets. Forget in both directions from this moment I am right in front of you I have a rifle I am sexually wonderful like a horse
* * *
Joanna Ruocco is the author of Man's Companions (Tarpaulin Sky). No Tell Motel first published this poem in January 2009. Joanna wrote, "One time, my friend, Brian Conn, was waiting to cross the street and he saw a big squirrel standing next to him on the sidewalk. The big squirrel was standing quite still, holding a smaller squirrel in its mouth. Brian Conn watched the big squirrel and the big squirrel watched the traffic. Suddenly, the big squirrel ran into the street and threw the smaller squirrel under the wheels of a car. I didn't write these poems thinking about that story. However, I am very interested in animals, sudden death, and misapprehensions of all kinds.
My father used to smoke cigars with a squirrel. This was in New York City. My father would lean out the window and the squirrel would balance on a branch of the sycamore tree and they would share Garcia Y Vegas.
I don't know how to reconcile these two encounters with squirrels. Maybe a gap in the universe opens between irreconcilable encounters with squirrels, and this gap has something to do with poetry?
All animals should wear orange in the woods and sing loudly."