Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
Jorie Graham has too deep a respect for the art of poetry to take anything for granted, whether it concerns her own perceptions, human consciousness or any notion of what a poem is. With each new collection, she questions the assumptions behind everything she has previously written.
Those assumptions include not only the nature of the line, of the image, of syntax, form and structure, but extend to voice, perspective, and the very self that embodies any given perspective. She is constantly challenging her own expectations, and ours.
Although her poems are sometimes described as difficult, the real difficulty may be in confronting our own expectations. This experience is not limited to poetry.
For example, if we expect a drawing or painting to present us with a realistic or even idealized view of things as they appear in the world, we may be disturbed by Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase,” with its cascade of body parts fractured into hard-edged metallic shapes. Odds are that for most of us drawing a realistic nude is a great challenge, and we admire those who have mastered a skill that is beyond us. But drawing realistically might not be so engaging to the artist who does not find it a challenge.
All of us come to poems with expectations, and it is perfectly natural, in art as in life, to favor what brings us comfort. We also know that nearly every important experience in our lives, whether or not it included our engagement with a work of art, pushed us beyond the boundaries of our comfort zones. Graham pushes relentlessly against those boundaries. To follow her, we must be willing to enter the active, questioning and questing mind alive in her poems.
“Studies in Secrecy” can be found in The Errancy. Jorie Graham’s most recent collection of poems is Sea Change. She also published Overlord in 2005 and Never in 2003.
Be sure to return for upcoming Poetry Fridays, when we will feature many poets from past Dodge Poetry Festivals in the weeks ahead, including Linda Hogan, Tony Hoagland, Taslima Nasreen and others.
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