Overlord

Overview

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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Overview

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."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The title for Graham's best book in at least a decade introduces several obsessions at once: it's the code name for American plans on D-Day, a sign for the absence-or perhaps presence-of an omnipotent God, and a term for arrogant nations (the U.S. among them) who have forgotten, or never learned, the lessons of the Greatest Generation. Graham, who won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for The Dream of the Unified Field, pursues familiar metaphysical questions through the long lines and longer sentences of meditations such as "Upon Emergence": "Have I that to which to devote my/ self? Have I devotion?"; a series of poems with the title "Praying" take the question to its ends, often ending up angry, guilty or shocked. One anecdotal poem depicts her trying and failing to feed a homeless man; a more abstract effort imagines "a horrible labyrinth, this/ history of ours. No/ opening." Most striking of all are works closely tied to D-Day, to Normandy (where Graham now spends part of each year) and to servicemen's own testimony, which casts contemporary fears into ironic relief: "Are you at war or at peace," Graham asks, "or are war and peace/ playing their little game over your dead body?" The vague, notebook-like qualities of Graham's last few efforts baffled some admirers, who will likely, and rightly, see these clear and powerful poems as a return to form. (Mar. 2) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Graham's (Dream of the Unified Field) ninth poetry collection is arguably her most impassioned, if not anxious, meditation on the nature of human presence and the possibility of belief in a diminished, fallen world where "The aim is to become/ something broken/ that cannot be broken further." Frenetic, one-sided conversations with a God or gods ("Your god might be the wrong one for the circumstances") sweep across the width of the page in long, self-questioning, and self-answering waves, as if the poet's mind were possessed by a relentless insomnia. Tracing the metaphysical scar tissue between raw desire to locate meaning and validation in the physical universe ("It's me I shout to the tree outside the window/ don't you know it's me, a me") and the urge to withdraw ("We can pull back/ from the being of our bodies...we can be absent, no one can tell."). But the crisis of selfhood is a difficult subject to manage, and Graham's cascading ruminations can turn too theatrical and self-conscious ("Every morning now I am putting these words down/ in the place of other words"), as the poet cannot escape the knowledge that her private Gethsemene is, in fact, a public garden. Recommended for larger academic library poetry collections.-Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060745653
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/1/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 112
  • Product dimensions: 7.37 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.55 (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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Table of Contents

Other 1
Dawn day one 4
Praying (attempt of June 8 '03) 8
Soldatenfriedhof 12
Praying (attempt of June 6 '03) 16
Upon emergence 20
Little exercise 23
Praying (attempt of May 9 '03) 24
Omaha 28
Praying (attempt of June 14 '03) 31
Spoken from the hedgerows 34
Spoken from the hedgerows 37
Spoken from the hedgerows 40
Disenchantment 43
Europe (Omaha Beach 2003) 50
Impressionism 53
Physician 58
Disenchantment 61
Praying (attempt of Feb 6 '04) 65
Passenger 69
Commute sentence 72
Copy 74
Praying (attempt of April 19 '04) 80
Communion 83
Posterity 86
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First Chapter

Overlord
Poems

Little Exercise

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?

Overlord
Poems
. Copyright © by Jorie Graham. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2005

    Overlord is Overloaded

    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.

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