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April 3, 2008 The New Museum, New York City From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Jorie Graham was born in New York City on May 9, 1950, the daughter of a journalist and a sculptor. She was raised in Rome, Italy and educated in French schools. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris before attending New York University as an undergraduate, where she studied filmmaking. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa.

Graham is the author of numerous collections of poetry, most recently Place: New Poems (Ecco, 2012); Sea Change (Ecco, 2008), Never (2002), Swarm (2000), and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994, which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

About her work, James Longenbach wrote in the New York Times: "For 30 years Jorie Graham has engaged the whole human contraption — intellectual, global, domestic, apocalyptic — rather than the narrow emotional slice of it most often reserved for poems. She thinks of the poet not as a recorder but as a constructor of experience. Like Rilke or Yeats, she imagines the hermetic poet as a public figure, someone who addresses the most urgent philosophical and political issues of the time simply by writing poems."

Graham has also edited two anthologies, Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language (1996) and The Best American Poetry 1990.

Her many honors include a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

She has taught at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003.


Selected Bibliography

Place: New Poems (Ecco, 2012)
Sea Change (2008)
Never (2002)
Swarm (2000)
The Errancy (1997)
The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994 (Ecco, 1995)
Materialism (1993)
Region of Unlikeness (1991)
The End of Beauty (Ecco, 1987)
Erosion (1983)
Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts (Princeton University Press, 1980)


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

Nearing Dawn

Jorie Graham, 1950
Sunbreak.  The sky opens its magazine.  If you look hard
                                                         it is a process of falling
                                                         and squinting—& you are in-
terrupted again and again by change, & crouchings out there
                                                         where you are told each second you
                                                         are only visiting, & the secret
                                                         whitening adds up to no
meaning, no, not for you, wherever the loosening muscle of the night
                                                         startles-open the hundreds of 
                                                         thousands of voice-boxes, into which
your listening moves like an aging dancer still trying to glide—there is time for
                                                         everything, everything, is there is not—
                                                         though the balance is
                                                         difficult, is coming un-
done, & something strays farther from love than we ever imagined, from the long and
                                                         orderly sentence which was a life to us, the dry 
                                                         leaves on
                                                         the fields
through which the new shoots glow
                                                         now also glowing, wet curled tips pointing in any
                                                         direction—
as if the idea of a right one were a terrible forgetting—as one feels upon
                                                         waking—when the dream is cutting loose, is going
                                                         back in the other
direction, deep inside, behind, no, just back—&
                                                         one is left looking out—& it is
breaking open further—what are you to do—how let it fully in—the wideness of it
                                                         is staggering—you have to have more arms eyes a 
                                                         thing deeper than laughter furrows more
capacious than hate forgiveness remembrance forgetfulness history silence
                                                         precision miracle—more
                                                         furrows are needed the field
cannot be crossed this way the
                                                         wide shine coming towards you standing in
the open window now, a dam breaking, reeking rich with the end of
                                                         winter, fantastic weight of loam coming into the
                                                         soul, the door behind you
                                                         shut, the
great sands behind there, pharaohs, the millennia of carefully prepared and buried
                                                         bodies, the ceremony and the weeping for them, all
back there, lamentations, libations, earth full of bodies everywhere, our bodies,
                                                         some still full of incense, & the sweet burnt
                                                         offerings, & the still-rising festival out-cryings—& we will
                                                         inherit
                                                         from it all
nothing—& our ships will still go,
                                                         after the ritual killing to make the wind listen,
out to sea as if they were going to a new place, 
                                                         forgetting they must come home yet again ashamed
no matter where they have been—& always the new brides setting forth—
                                                         & always these ancient veils of their falling from the sky
                                                         all over us, 
& my arms rising from my sides now as if in dictation, & them opening out from me, 
& me now smelling the ravens the blackbirds the small heat of the rot in this largest 
                                                         cage—bars of light crisping its boundaries—
& look
                                                         there is no cover, you cannot reach
it, ever, nor the scent of last night's rain, nor the chainsaw raised to take the first of the 
                                                         far trees
                                                         down, nor the creek's tongued surface, nor the minnow
                                                         turned by the bottom of the current—here
                                                         is an arm outstretched, then here
is rightful day and the arm is still there, outstretched, at the edge of a world—tyrants
                                                         imagined by the bearer of the arm, winds listened for, 
                                                         corpses easily placed anywhere the
                                                         mind wishes—inbox, outbox—machines
                                                         that do not tire in the
distance—barbed wire taking daysheen on—marking the end of the field—the barbs like a 
                                                         lineup drinking itself
                                                         crazy—the wire
                                                         where it is turned round the post standing in for
mental distress—the posts as they start down the next field sorting his from
                                                         mine, his from the
                                                         other's—until you know, following,
following, all the way to the edge and then turning again, then again, to the
                                                         far fields, to the
height of the light—you know
                                                         you have no destiny, no, you have a wild unstoppable 
                                                         rumor for a soul, you
look all the way to the end of
                                                         your gaze, why did you marry, why did you stop to listen,
where are your fingerprints, the mud out there hurrying to 
                                                         the white wood gate, its ruts, the ants in it, your
                                                         imagination of your naked foot placed
there, the thought that in that there
                                                         is all you have & that you have
no rightful way
                                                         to live— 

From Sea Change by Jorie Graham, published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright © 2008 by Jorie Graham. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

From Sea Change by Jorie Graham, published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright © 2008 by Jorie Graham. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Jorie Graham

Jorie Graham

Jorie Graham was born in New York City in 1950, the daughter

by this poet

poem
At some point in the day, as such, there was a pool.  Of
                                                         stillness.  One bent to brush one's hair, and, lifting
                                                         again, there it was, the
opening—one glanced away from a mirror, and there, before one'
poem
In this blue light
     I can take you there,
snow having made me
     a world of bone
seen through to.  This
     is my house,

my section of Etruscan
     wall, my neighbor's
lemontrees, and, just below
     the lower church,
the airplane factory.
     A rooster

crows all day from mist
     outside the walls
poem
Over a dock railing, I watch the minnows, thousands, swirl
themselves, each a minuscule muscle, but also, without the
way to create current, making of their unison (turning, re-
                                                infolding,
entering and exiting their own unison in unison) making of themselves