Monday, October 7, 2013

Thanks for Writing, Jorie Graham

Mid-morning. Overcast. A brisk breeze carrying a hint of chill.

Lots of birds about. A jittery flight of starlings comes and goes.

As the breeze picks up, becomes wind, the dominant noise is a rustle of leaves so loud it makes me think, "racket of leaves."

There's a warning on that wind. "You won't be wanting to sit here, nursing your outdoor poetry shtick, when the rain on the way actually arrives."

I open Jorie Graham's book, Overlord. It's a beautiful book, a thin volume, hardcover, more rectangular than most books, but perfect for poetry. A small, evocative collage, centered against the black background of the dust jacket, features a red smear, something like an ideogram, overlaying fragments of newspapers in French and English. The book design is totally first-class. Lucky Jorie. I'm jealous.

I don't usually want to like Jorie Graham. I don't "get" a good number of her poems, which frequently seem to feature literary allusions I don't understand. I have no idea who she is really, but I always think of her as some genteel WASP lady from the East Coast, somewhere, or maybe from some college town where one of her parents was a professor of literature. But I don't actually know who she is.

And, oh boy, I really do like her poem, "Impressionism," which begins with "the silent little girl in a white frock," posed on a picturesque little bridge, imagined, perhaps, or strategically positioned in the French landscape, so that Graham's poem might begin with the kind of Victorian image characteristic of so many Impressionist paintings.

The girl, whose "hair is held by tiny yellow bows," seems to recede in the distance, replaced by a heron whose "foot uplifts in the isosceles of just a single wading-step--half-interrupted," revealing "the half-truth that can be caught."

Further along, the poet observes "eleven crabs  attached, all feeding wildly" and "clacking their armors into each other," not long before they themselves are "crushed, each, at the head by the child's hammer taken to them one by one."

As she collects her many impressions of the world around her, Graham discovers that she has moved on to a place a surprisingly long distance away.

"There's no way back believe me.
I'm writing you from there."

And, as the rain about which the wind had given warning begins to fall, outdoor poetry season is interrupted. It is the indoors for me, at least for now. But I am grateful to Graham for taking the time to write.

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