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What does it mean to be fully present in a human life? How -- in the face of the carnage of war, the no longer merely threatened destruction of the natural world, the faceless threat of spiritual oversimplification and reactive fear -- does one retain one's capacity to be both present and responsive? And to what extent does our capacity to be present, to be fully ourselves, depend on our relationship to an other and our understanding of and engagement with otherness itself? With what forces does the sheer act of ...
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What does it mean to be fully present in a human life? How -- in the face of the carnage of war, the no longer merely threatened destruction of the natural world, the faceless threat of spiritual oversimplification and reactive fear -- does one retain one's capacity to be both present and responsive? And to what extent does our capacity to be present, to be fully ourselves, depend on our relationship to an other and our understanding of and engagement with otherness itself? With what forces does the sheer act of apprehending make us complicit? What powers lord over us and what do we, as a species, and as souls, lord over?
These are among the questions Jorie Graham, in her most personal and urgent collection to date, undertakes to explore, often from a vantage point geographically, as well as historically, other. Many of the poems take place along the coastline known as Omaha Beach in Normandy, and move between visions of that beach during the Allied invasion of Europe (whose code name was Operation Overlord) and that landscape of beaches, fields, and hedgerows as it is known to the speaker today. In every sense the work meditates on our new world, ghosted by, and threatened by, competing descriptions of the past, the future, and what it means to be, as individuals, and as a people, "free."
|Dawn day one||4|
|Praying (attempt of June 8 '03)||8|
|Praying (attempt of June 6 '03)||16|
|Praying (attempt of May 9 '03)||24|
|Praying (attempt of June 14 '03)||31|
|Spoken from the hedgerows||34|
|Spoken from the hedgerows||37|
|Spoken from the hedgerows||40|
|Europe (Omaha Beach 2003)||50|
|Praying (attempt of Feb 6 '04)||65|
|Praying (attempt of April 19 '04)||80|
The screen is full of voices, all of them holding their tongues.
Certain things have to be "undergone," yes.
To come to a greater state of consciousness, yes.
Let the face show itself through the screen.
Let the organizing eyes show themselves.
Let them float to the surface of this shine and glow there.
The world now being killed by its children. Also its guests.
An oracle? -- a sniper, a child beater, a dying parent in the house,
a soil so overfed, it cannot hold a root system in place?
Look -- the slightest wind undoes the young crop.
Are we "beyond salvation?" Will you not speak?
Such a large absence -- shall it not compel the largest presence?
Can we not break the wall?
And can it please not be a mirror lord?
Posted August 28, 2005
Readers familiar with Jorie Graham's work know she writes difficult, long, discursive, meditative poems. Her most common subject through ten collections is her perceptions about perception. In Overlord, Graham continues the over-written, prosaic style of her past three collections: The Errancy, Swarm and Never -- a verbal slush which fluctuates between simple bad writing and gimmickry: 'Have I that to which to devote my/ self? Have I devotion? The shoes, / the clothes? The drowning of appetites, as the chariots/ were drowned? I sit at the very edge/ of the garden, paying out my attention' (Upon Emergence). And, 'Then there are/ these: me: you: you there. I'm actually staring up at/ you, you know, right here, right from the pool of the page./ Don't worry where else I am, I am here. Don't/ worry if I'm still alive, you are' (Dawn Day One). Her central subject in these twenty-five poems is herself, of course, and secondarily her thoughts about war via the Allied invasion of France during WW II, via the real or imagined experiences of the young men who fought and died. The best writing conveys the landscape descriptively and the momentary events of the myriad personal histories that survived the violence in one form or another. The writing is strongest when the poet does not intrude, when she lets her young men, who have earned the right to speak, tell their stories. The syntax is not as disjunctive or the language as clotted as her previous books, but Graham's primary problem is her poems meander in and out of her consciousness with only mild interest toward her subject or for her reader. Overlord is slack without the clarity or intensity of her earlier work. Whereas Walt Whitman wrote movingly about real boys dying in his arms from Civil War battles, readers knew Whitman wasn't worried about blood staining his hands. His poems touched readers with their moving honesty and emotion. Graham's sincerity is less convincing. Many of the poems, though meaty, are also fatty. The several entitled 'Praying' seem language exercises, rather than soul searching. For vintage Graham worth reading, The Dream of the Unified Field, offers her best work: 'Reading Plato,' 'Salmon,' 'What the End is For,' and the lovely title poem, among others.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.