On Wednesday, October 3rd, fresh off her reception of the prestigious, 2012 Forward Prize, and in front of an eager, restless, crowded room at the New School, Jorie Graham read, with fervor and fluidity, from her new book Place.
The Poetry Foundation is not alone is regarding the Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard professor as "perhaps the most celebrated poet of the American post-war generation,” and on Wednesday night one saw (and heard) why. Graham read three fairly long poems from Place, “On the Virtue of the Dead Tree,” “Treadmill,” and “Lapse, Summer Solstice 1983, Iowa City,” the last, a poem about—though “about” is a term she distrusts —the experience and memory of pushing her then-infant daughter on a swing for the first time.
One of the most striking features of Graham’s poems is her use of rhythm. Each poem is harnessed or allowed to run free, gathering at times a seemingly unstoppable momentum. In “On the Virtue of the Dead Tree” hard and soft accents mix the tempo in almost every line. In “Treadmill” the coming, arriving, and waiting of death moves the poem forward with unshakeable urgency, while in “Lapse” the ups and downs are not only in the motion of the swing and the exertion of pushing it, but in the feelings of the young (and then older) mother’s hopes and fears.
After her captivating reading, the poet sat down with moderator and New School faculty member Honor Moore for a Q&A. Graham answered questions from the audience that ranged from the use of memory in writing poetry, the poet’s struggle to get her Harvard students to hear a bird sing on the way to an early-morning class, the difference between the “subject” of a poem and its content, and the challenge writers face to find a thread between the present and the distant future, apart from Hollywood films.
And if you missed the event, or just didn’t get enough, you can always hear some more poems -- Philip Brunst