Swarmby Published 05 Jun 2001
T S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, John Ashbery -- and Jorie Graham. The New Yorker places Ms. Graham in this distinguished line of poets, heralding the Pulitzer Prize winner as a profound voice in American poetry. Now, in her eighth collection, she further enhances her reputation with a book-length sequence of verse that is a stunning work of grandeur.
The New Republic writes, "for 'swarm,' in other words...read 'be born again.' Graham is writing about a spiritual turning point, a new beginning.... Beauty -- that is, the pure sense-perception which has long been a concern for Graham -- is no longer the most important criterion. Now goodness is...[and] the idea of submission, of obedience, without understanding: one must 'yield' before 'hearing the reason' for yielding."
This is the most depressing book I've read in a long time. Graham's poetry is extremely fragmented in this volume in a sort of scattered reflection of the human/diety connection. For some reason it depresses it in the same way that philosophy books used to depress me---it equals a sort of common denominator of life that is so simplified and logical (despite the large amount of subjectivity in the voice of these poems) that it kind of erases all of the variations and joys of life. The style reminds me of Robert Duncan (another voice of the fragmented) but unlike Duncan, Graham does not wander---her focus is squarely on the individual's desire for knowledge and the impossiblity to have any certain knowledge of any kind. In metaphor after metaphor she continues, unwaveringly, on this focus in an almost nihilistic desire to shed all illusions away. I'm not sure that this is brilliant or suicidal---I just know that this is one painful read. I admire it; but I cannot enjoy it--it is not to be enjoyed.
Love your suit.
I've enjoyed reading Graham's poetry for many years, but while I always feel she's doing something interesting, I almost never fully understand it.
I do see that she's praising the transitory, the particular, the short-lived, against the universal unchangeable permanent ideal of the classical neoplatonists and many since. That's especially clear in my favorite poem of hers, "Erosion", which is my favorite because I at least think I *do* understand it! And how many poems attacking neoplatonism are there? (I keep thinking of Goethe's Faust, who's supposed to say "Verweile doch, du bist so schön" when he encounters the perfect moment, but never does.)
And I assume her fracturing language is supposed to communicate something about the transitory particular moment that a more standard use of language misses. But how it's supposed to communicate that, and what it's supposed to communicate, is still obscure to me. I found _Place_ much clearer, and so went back to _Swarm_, hoping I'd understand it better this time. And I do see more clearly that her language is expressing the fractured nature of our ordinary consciousness. So I've made progress. But I'm afraid I still have a long way to go to understand what each of her poems is conveying.
I like her poetry, and am glad that I'm coming closer to understanding it, and look forward to continued progress.
This is the book to follow Errancy? I'm not sure where the turn was, nor why the "Underneath" needs to be so reticent, considering how voluble it had been in previous book. I feel in the trap of judging this Graham in light of the others, and I find it difficult to find the same enthusiasm. If I frame it as a book written at the time of serious personal crisis (is this a chronicle of her split with James Galvin?), then I follow along. Otherwise I find the air part of the swarm more a dispersion of sense.
Sure, I was disappointed by her crafty dissembling and rewarding incompetent lovers and asskissers (underscored later by Foetry). And I distrust anyone associated with the Iowa Workshop. But this is great poetry: semi-autistic, eternal, trance-like, simultaneously hilarious and solemn. Like an oracle. I'll never read another book of her poetry because she's obviously a nest-baked cougar crone with useless privileges, but this is good. Her peak.