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by Jorie Graham

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Jorie Graham's collection of poems, Never, primarily addresses concern over our environment in crisis. One of the most challenging poets writing today, Graham is no easy read, but the rewards are well worth the effort. While thematically present, her concern is not exclusively the demise of natural resources and depletion of species, but the philosophical and


Jorie Graham's collection of poems, Never, primarily addresses concern over our environment in crisis. One of the most challenging poets writing today, Graham is no easy read, but the rewards are well worth the effort. While thematically present, her concern is not exclusively the demise of natural resources and depletion of species, but the philosophical and perceptual difficulty in capturing and depicting a physical world that may be lost, or one that we humans have limited sight of and into. As she notes in "The Taken-Down God": "We wish to not be erased from the / picture. We wish to picture the erasure. The human earth and its appearance. / The human and its disappearance."

With a style that is fragmented and somewhat whirling—language dips and darts and asides are taken—Graham stays on point and presents an honest intellect at work, fumbling for an accurate understanding (or description) of the natural world, self-conscious about the limitations of language and perception.

Editorial Reviews

“Graham’s inventive, gracefully longitudinal, lush yet demanding meditations on the nature of being are exquisitely piquant and affecting.”
New York Times Book Review
“Graham’s poetry is among the most sensuously embodied and imaginative writing we have.”
“[Never] shows Graham to be a most formidable nature poet, finding…perfect analogues for states of consciousness.”
Publishers Weekly
The forebodingly absolute title of Graham's ninth collection does not set the tone for all of this book's 27 lyrics, which range over "starlings starting up ladderings of chatter"; an "Editor" and a "Speaking subject" trading stanzas and lines in "Solitude"; the minutes just before, during and after the striking of noon taken up by permutations of "Hunger," and many other eternities in a moment. Less doom-ridden and biblical than 2000's Swarm, Never collects work that appeared in magazines like the New Yorker and the Times Literary Supplement over the last few years. If the double and triple sets of parentheses "(swarming but swaying in unison, without advancing) (waiting for some arrival) (the channel of them quickening)" and brackets "["protection"] ["money"] [paying them to go away] [gold]" don't seem quite as fresh as when Graham first started using them, they do remain more than a stylistic tic, as she attempts to trace the comings and goings of thought orthographically. Similarly, in moves familiar from previous books, Graham frequently uses terms like "Firstness" and "Subsequence" to carry the conceptual weight the speaker's perceptions, and here stretches them to the point where they signify distance from ordinary life, rather than transcendence of it. More than anything else, this book shows Graham to be a most formidable nature poet, finding in her speaker's environment perfect analogues for states of consciousness: "All day there had been clouds and expectation of sun. It could `break through' anytime, they said." (Apr. 5) Forecast: Graham won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for The Dream of the Unified Field and this book will generate attention on its own. This is also probably the first time in U.S. history that the country's leading poets are women. Graham, Anne Carson and Louise Gl ck get most of the press, but look for National Poetry Month profiles and round-up reviews celebrating the achievements of others, including Rae Armantrout, Wanda Coleman, Lyn Hejinian, Myung-Mi Kim, Ann Lauterbach, Harryette Mullen, Alice Notley and Adrienne Rich all of whom have recent books. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Graham's ninth collection continues along the same ambitious curve as her prior two works, Errancy and Swarm, using flux and interruption as both form and topic. Many of these poems occur at the ocean's edge, where the play of surfaces becomes a canvas for the poet's conceptualizations; sunlight, to Graham, is as "golden sentences writ on clearest moving waters." There is the unmistakable sound of the late A.R. Ammons in places and an Ammons-like use of the colon as a fulcrum to balance thoughts. But unlike Ammons, Graham eschews wit, unadorned statement, and resolution, and her lines can be hard to penetrate: "[or onto my feet, then into my eyes] where red turns into `sun' again./ So then it's sun in surf-breaking water: encircling, smearing: mind not/ knowing if it's still `wave,' breaking on/ itself." It is as if the poem tries so hard to exist in the moment of its own creation that it implodes, like matter into a black hole. The most accessible poems include "The Taken-Down God," a description of worshipers at an Easter rite in Umbria in which the poet (like most of us) can't quite keep up with "real time." Despite the difficulties, Graham is an important poet, which recommends her work for most poetry collections. Ellen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine LLP Law Lib., New York Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
7.37(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.32(d)

Read an Excerpt


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 a
visual current, one that cannot freight or sway by
minutest fractions the water’s downdrafts and upswirls, the
dockside cycles of finally-arriving boat-wakes, there where
they hit deeper resistance, water that seems to burst into
itself (it has those layers), a real current though mostly
invisible sending into the visible (minnows) arrowing
motion that forces change --
this is freedom. This is the force of faith. Nobody gets
what they want. Never again are you the same. The longing
is to be pure. What you get is to be changed. More and more by
each glistening minute, through which infinity threads itself,
also oblivion, of course, the aftershocks of something
at sea. Here, hands full of sand, letting it sift through
in the wind, I look in and say take this, this is
what I have saved, take this, hurry. And if I listen
now? Listen, I was not saying anything. It was only
something I did. I could not choose words. I am free to go.
I cannot of course come back. Not to this. Never.
It is a ghost posed on my lips. Here: never.


I am beneath the tree. To the right the river is melting the young sun.
And translucence itself, bare, bony, feeding and growing on the manifest,
frets in the small puddles of snowmelt sidewalks and frozen lawns holdup

full of sky.

From this eternity, where we do not resemble ourselves, where
resemblance is finally

beside (as the river is) the point,

and attention can no longer change the outcome of the gaze,
the ear too is finally sated, starlings starting up ladderings of chatter,
all at once all to the left,

invisible in the pruned-back

hawthorn, heard and heard again, and yet again
differently heard, but silting

the head with inwardness and making always a
dispersing but still

coalescing opening in the listener who
cannot look at them exactly,

since they are invisible inside the greens -- though screeching-full in
syncopations of yellowest,

fine-thought, finespun

rivering of almost-knowables. "Gold" is too dark. "Featherwork"
too thick. When two

appear in flight, straight to the child-sized pond of
melted snow,

and thrash, dunk, rise, shake, rethrashing, reconfiguring through
reshufflings and resettlings the whole body of integrated

they shatter open the blue-and-tree-tip filled-up gaze of
the lawn’s two pools,

breaking and ruffling all the crisp true sky we had seen living
down in that tasseled

earth. How shall we say this happened? Something inaudible
has ceased. Has gone back round to an other side
of which this side’s access was [is] this width of sky
deep in

just-greening soil? We left the party without a word.
We did not change, but time changed us. It should be,
it seems, one or the other of us who is supposed to say -- lest
there be nothing -- here we are. It was supposed to become familiar
(this earth). It was to become "ours." Lest there be nothing?
Lest we reach down to touch our own reflection here?
Shouldn’t depth come to sight and let it in, in the end, as the form
the farewell takes: representation: dead men:
lean forward and look in: the raggedness of where the openings
are: precision of the limbs upthrusting down to hell:
the gleaming in: so blue: and that it has a bottom: even a few clouds
if you keep

attending: and something that’s an edge-of: and mind-cracks: and how the
poem is

about that: that distant life: I carry it inside me but
can plant it into soil: so that it becomes impossible
to say that anything swayed
from in to out: then back to "is this mine, or yours?": the mind
seeks danger out: it reaches in, would touch: where the subject is emptying,
war is:

morality play: preface: what there is to be thought: love:
begin with the world: let it be small enough.

Never. Copyright © by Jorie Graham. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Jorie Graham is the author of twelve collections of poems. Her poetry, widely translated, has been the recipient of numerous awards, among them the Pulitzer Prize, the Forward Prize (UK), and the International Nonino Prize. She lives in Massachusetts and teaches at Harvard University

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