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The Errancy


Poems exploring the theme of sexual, emotional, political, and spiritual desire through the eyes of a poet's characters examine the age in which we live, where dreams are not as easy as they once were.

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Poems exploring the theme of sexual, emotional, political, and spiritual desire through the eyes of a poet's characters examine the age in which we live, where dreams are not as easy as they once were.

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Book Review
For two decades now, graham's poems have been exercising the major muscles in the throat of our language. If you haven't been listening, I'm telling you there's a new music out there, and this book, The Errancy, is its finest performance.
Harvard Review
A recent profile of Graham in The New Yorker places her in the lineage of Eliot, Bishop, and Ashbery rather than William Carlos Williams or Robert Creeley, but it might be posited that her capacious talent now draws on all these examples: the bodiless virtuosity of formal mastery has met the flexibility and passion of the mind and eye at liberty. The Errancy is what might be called, among the quakers, a leading: Graham shows us a future direction in American poetry, and that future is a welcome place.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Few poets address the predicament of the postmodern soul as rigorously or as intelligently as Graham. Without a dominant (or at least coherently integrated) set of cultural beliefs to unpack, rebel against or discard, Graham is forced into "errancy," a condition that finds her wandering "the path without the crumbs" as she attempts to fashion a language capable of speaking truth amid "the cadaverous swallowings of the dream of reason gone." It is a complicated project that has evolved over five previous volumes (culled in the Pulitzer Prize-winning collection The Dream of the Unified Field, 1995) and requires an often oblique approach. Substituting cascading syntax for worn-out metaphors, Graham piles phrase upon phrase, describing not so much our world but our turns of mind as we proceed without a theory of what we're doing. "The Guardian Angel of Not Feeling" concludes: "bring hand to liptheredo it again, again,/ blazon the mouth, rub in, exaggerate/ the little halo forms, around the teeth,/ the mirror on that wall shows you the thing,/ furious, votive/ oh look, the tiny heart/ mouthing and mouthing its crisp inaudible black zeros out." This and other poems named for guardian angelse.g., "The Guardian Angel of Point-of-View," "The Guardian Angel of Private Life"reclaim a viable space for private experience from a world obsessed with spectacle. The "I," which has all but disappeared from experimental poetry, resurfaces in nearly all of these 38 poems but cannot be fully identified with their speaker, becoming "merely a specimen/ incomplete as such, overendowed," and not an occasion for religious or personal reflection. "An icy thing, even in its fluency," this masterful collection takes risks in naming "the small hole inside I'm supposed to love" and coldly, bleakly and dazzlingly succeeds. (July)
Library Journal
This collection, Graham's seventh including 1995's retrospective Dream of the Unified Field, LJ 10/15/95, continues this prominent poet's exploration of the very limits of language and meaning. Her style is as bewitching as ever, but these are perhaps her most difficult poems to date; no longer satisfied with nature or myth or love as her subject, she reinterprets them as the veils of an ever-elusive super-reality: "we are far into the cave of seem," as she says in "Flood." The titles of these poems, with their many occurrences of angels and aubades, almost lead us to expect verses in the manner of Robert Bly, but they are instances of Graham's sleight-of-hand; these poems are a unified journey into the most terrifying conundrums of ontology. Despite the relative accessibility of some poemse.g., "Willow in Spring Wind," "In the Pasture," "Recovered from the Storm"Graham's work is apt to be quite challenging for all but the most dedicated readers of poetry; still, Graham is one of the most important living poets, and her control of her craft is undisputed. Recommended.Graham Christian, Andover-Harvard Theological Lib., Cambridge, Mass.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780880015295
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/1/1998
  • Edition description: 1 PBK ED
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.29 (d)

Meet the Author

Jorie Graham is the author of 12 collections, including The Dream of the Unified Field which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and teaches at Harvard University.

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Read an Excerpt

The Guardian Angel of the Little Utopia

Shall I move the flowers again?
Shall I put them further to the left
into the light?
Win that fix it, will that arrange the
Yellow sky.
Faint cricket in the dried-out bush.
As I approach, my footfall in the leaves
drowns out the cricket-chirping I was
coming close to hear
Yellow sky with black leaves rearranging it.
Wind rearranging the black leaves in it.
But anyway I am indoors, of course, and this is a pane, here,
and I have arranged the flowers for you
again. Have taken the dead cordless ones, the yellow bits past apogee,
the faded cloth, the pollen-free abandoned marriage-hymn
back out, leaving the few crisp blooms to swagger, winglets, limpid
Shall I arrange these few remaining flowers?
Shall I rearrange these gossamer efficiencies?
Please don't touch me with your skin.
Please let the thing evaporate.
Please tell me clearly what it is.
The party is so loud downstairs, bristling with souvenirs.
It's a philosophy of life, of course,
drinks fluorescent, whips of syntax in the air
above the heads -- how small they seem from here,
the bobbing universal heads, stuffing the void with eloquence,
and also tiny merciless darts
of truth. It's pulled on tight, the air they breathe and rip.
It's like a prize the way it's stretched on tight
over the voices, keeping them intermingling, forcing the breaths to
marry, marry,
cunning little hermeneutic cupola,
dome of occasion in which the thoughts re-
group, the footprints stall and gnaw in tiny ruts,
the napkins wave, arewaved , the honeycombing
thoughts are felt to dialogue, a form of self-
congratulation, no?, or is it suffering? I'm a bit
dizzy up here rearranging things,
they will come up here soon, and need a setting for their fears,
and loves, an architecture for their evolutionary
morphic needs -- what will they need if I don't make the place? --
what will they know to miss?, what cry out for, what feel the bitter
restless irritations
for? A bit dizzy from the altitude of everlastingness,
the tireless altitudes of the created place,
in which to make a life -- a liberty -- the hollow, fetishized, and starry
a bit gossamer with dream, a vortex of evaporations,
oh little dream, invisible city, invisible hill
I make here on the upper floors for you --
down there, where you are entertained, where you are passing
time, there's glass and moss on air,
there's the feeling of being numerous, mouths submitting to air, lips
to protocol,
and dreams of sense, tongues, hinges, forceps clicking
in anticipation ofas if the moment, freeze-burned by accuracies--of
could be thawed open into life again
by gladnesses, by rectitude -- no, no -- by the sinewy efforts at
sincerity -- can't you feel it gliding round you,
mutating, yielding the effort-filled phrases of your talk to air,
compounding, stemming them, honeying-open the sheerest
innuendoes till
the rightness seems to root, in the air, in the compact indoor sky,
and the rest, all round, feels like desert, falls away,
and you have the sensation of muscular timeliness,and you feel the calligraphic in you reach out like a soul
into the midst of others, in conversation,
gloved by desire, into the tiny carnage
of opinionsSo dizzy. Life buzzing beneath me
though my feeling says the hive is gone, queen gone,
the continuum continuing beneath, busy, earnest, in con-
versation. Shall I prepare. Shall I put this further
to the left, shall I move the light, the point-of-view, the shades are
drawn, to cast a glow resembling disappearance, slightly red,
will that fix it, will that make clear the task, the trellised ongoingness
and all these tiny purposes, these parables, this marketplace
of tightening truths?
Oh knit me that am crumpled dust,
the heap is all dispersed. Knit me that am. Say therefore. Say
philosophy and mean by that the pane.
Let us look out again. The yellow sky.
With black leaves rearranging it
The Errancy. Copyright © by Jorie Graham. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

The Guardian Angel of the Little Utopia 1
The Errancy 4
The Scanning 7
So Sure of Nowhere Buying Times to Come 11
The Guardian Angel of Self-Knowledge 14
Little Requiem 16
Willow in Spring Wind: A Showing 19
The Guardian Angel of the Private Life 20
Untitled One 23
Untitled Two 25
Flood 28
Spelled from the Shadow Aubade 34
Oblivion Aubade 36
Which but for Vacancy 38
Thinking 40
Sea-Blue Aubade 42
Miscellaneous Weights and Measures 44
The Guardian Angel of Not Feeling 46
Against Eloquence 48
The Greater Than Which Nothing 50
The Strangers 52
Studies in Secrecy 53
The End of Progress Aubade (Eurydice to Orpheus) 57
Red Umbrella Aubade 59
The Hurrying-Home Aubade 61
Le Manteau de Pascal 64
Manteau 71
The Shadow of Peter 75
The Guardian Angel of Point-of-View 78
The Guardian Angel of the Swarm 81
How the Body Fits on the Cross 85
In the Pasture 88
Motive Elusive 92
Emergency 95
Easter Morning Aubade 101
The Turning 103
Recovered from the Storm 107
Of the Ever-Changing Agitation in the Air 109
Notes 111
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First Chapter


The Guardian Angel of Not Feeling

As where a wind blows.
I can teach you that.
The form of despair we call "the world."
A theft, yes, but gossipy, full of fear.
In which the "I" is seen as merely a specimen,
incomplete as such, overendowed,
maneuvering to rid itself of biological
precipitates -- hypotheses, humilities,
Do you wish to come with me?
You know how in a landscape you see distances?
We can blur that. We can dissolve it
altogether. You know the previous age?
How it lacks shape until it's cut away by
love? We gust that lingering, moody, raw affection
out, we peck and fret until it's
gone, the flimsy courage, the leaky luggage
in which you carry round
your drafty dreams -- of form, of hinged
awarenesses, all interlocking-up -- dream on --
the chain is rattling that you've cast,
yet it is made of air, of less, look, here
it mirrors, here it curves
in space, here it resembles -- quick -- for just a
nanosecond -- happiness -- incorruptible whole --
how soothing, so real, a ledge above the
waterfall -- You know, in music,
how you hear -- you strain to hear --
the isolation of the meager, the you alone,
an interim bristling with arguments, illusions --
they are lesions, they are spreading across a naked
skin, a rolling, planetary stretch of human skin,
not like the feeling of an unseen presence,
not like -- oh wave demolishing,
we're waiting for the phone to ring,
we're busy -- no? -- we cling -- the versions
of the desolation we clock-out in lists, in
miles -- The wave, the wave appears
but then withdraws, it ruffles at its rim
as whereabouts, moonlight thrashes in its
curl, clatters as inventory in its curl,
the wave -- wake up -- the wave I'll give you
tiny bits of if you'll still --
Postpone the honeycombing day,
let the sandbar rise up beneath us here,
the bed will do,
the spattering of texture, shade -- brocaded shirtsleeve on
the chair -- the corridor of mysteries
you call your hair -- the masonry of your
delays -- pen, paper, ink -- my friend,
look at the ink, dip fingers through its open neck,
bring hand to lip -- there -- do it again, again,
blazon the mouth, rub in, exaggerate --
the little halo forms, around the teeth,
the mirror on that wall shows you the thing,
furious, votive --
oh look, the tiny heart
mouthing and mouthing its crisp inaudible black zeros out.

Recovered from the Storm

I went out afterwards to see.
Wide silvery hypotheses of memorizing waters.
In them -- so deeply -- the incomplete pictures.
Twigs, seeds, nuts, limbs scattered over the streets,
distemper's trophies gathering round our footfalls.
I looked at them carefully, wide awake in that monologue.
Some branches thrown down in the middle of things.
Cars not yet venturing. Dusk so blue in its black.
And whole bushes torn from some too-thin origin.
And drowned heads of things strewn wildly through
our singular, tender, green,
Am I supposed to put them back together --
these limbs, their leaves, the tiny suctioned twig-end joints --?
these branches shoved deep into my silky glance --?
these maples' outtakes streaked over the lawn -- their thorns, their blithe
footnotes ...? And the trellis cracked from the weight of the freefall?
And the boxelder standing like an overburdened juggler --
so laden now he cannot remember
the sugary spinnings, the bright fingerings of ...
Oh limpid puddles with your ditties of fate ...
There's a shovel by the window.
There's contagion by the gutter.
There's a cartoon upstairs where the children are hidden.
So this is the wingbeat of the underneathly, ticking --
this iridescent brokenness, this wet stunted nothingness --
busy with its hollows -- browsing abstractly with its catastrophic wingtips
the tops of our world, ripping pleatings of molecule,
unjoining the slantings, the slippery wrinklings we don't even grasp
the icily free made-nature of yet?
Why are we here in this silly moonlight?
What is the mind meant to tender among splinters?
What was it, exactly, was meant to be shored?
Whose dolled-up sorceries against confusion now?
The children are upstairs, we will keep them tucked in --
as long as we can, as long as you'll let us.
I hear your pitch. How containment is coughing,
under the leafbits, against the asphalt.
How the new piles of kindling are mossily giggling
their kerosene cadenza
all long the block in the riddled updrafts.
I pick up and drag one large limb from the path.

Of the Ever-Changing Agitation in the Air

The man held his hands to his heart as he danced.
He slacked and swirled.
The doorways of the little city
blurred. Something
leaked out,
kindling the doorframes up,
making each entranceway
less true.
And darkness gathered
although it does not fall.... And the little dance,
swinging this human all down the alleyway,
nervous little theme pushing itself along,
braiding, rehearsing,
constantly incomplete so turning and tacking --
oh what is there to finish? -- his robes made rustic by the reddish swirl,
which grows darker towards the end of the avenue of course,
one hand on his chest,
one flung out to the side as he dances, taps, sings,
on his scuttling toes, now humming a little,
now closing his eyes as he twirls, growing smaller,
why does the sun rise? remember me always dear for I will
return --
liberty spooring in the evening air,
into which the lilacs open, the skirts uplift,
liberty and the blood-eye careening gently over the giant earth,
and the cat in the doorway who does not mistake the world,
eyeing the spots where the birds must eventually land --

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