Monday, September 28, 2015

Poem of the Week, 9/28/15

LULL                                                        by Jorie Graham

At the forest’s edge, a fox                                 came out.                                 It looked atus. Nobody coming up the hill hungry looking                                 to take                                 food. The fox-                                 eyetrained. Nobody coming up the                                 hill in the broad                                 daylight with an                                 axe forwood, for water, for the store in the                                 pantry. I stock                                 the pantry. Iwatch for rain. For too much                                 rain, too                                 fast, too                                 little, toolong. When dryness begins I hear the woods                                 click. Unusual.                                 I hear the arid. Un-                                 usual. My father                                 is dying ofage, good, that is usual. My valley is,                                 my touch, my sense, my law, my                                 soil, my sensation of                                 my firstperson. Now everything is clear. Facts lick their tongue deep                                 into my ear.Visiting hour is up. We are curled                                 on the hook we placed in our brain and down                                 our throat into our                                 hearts our inner                                 organs we                                 have eatenthe long fishing line of the so-called journey and taken its                                 fine piercing into                                 our necks backs hands it comes out ourmouths it re-enters our ears and in it goes                                 again deep the dream                                 of ownershipwe count up everyone to make sure we are all here                                 in it                                 together, the only                                 share-holders, the applause lines make the                                 tightening line                                 gleam—the bottom line—how much                                 did you think you                                 could own—the first treewe believed was a hook we got it                                 wrong—the fox is still                                 standing there it                                 is staring it isnot scared—there is nothing behind it, beyond it—no value—                                 the story of Eden:                                 revision: we are nowbreaking into the Garden. It was, for the                                 interglacial lull,                                 protected                                 from                                 us now we                                 have broken                                 in—have emptied allthe limbs the streaming fabric of                                 light milliseconds leaves the now inaudible                                 birds whales bees—havein these days made arrangements to get                                 compensation—from what                                 we know not but the court says                                 we are to be                                 compensatedfor our way of life being                                 taken from us—fox says                                 what a rough garment                                 your brain isyou wear it all over you, fox says                                 language is a hook you                                 got caught,try pulling somewhere on the strings but no                                 they are all through you,                                 had you only lookeddown, fox says, look down to the                                 road and keep your listening                                 up, fox will you notmove on my heart thinks checking the larder the                                 locks foxsays your greed is not                                 precise enough. 

Jorie Graham is a poet who raised herself from the intersection between philosophy and poetry. When she read her poetry aloud about half a year ago at the River Terrace poetry center, the continuous flow of her words gave the impression that her work had to do with singular episodes of eternity in time, as moments in which she was almost possessed-- like an oracle, more specifically the oracle of Delphi, which I gathered was a central influence to her work.
Once the critic Calvin Bedient said: she is "never less than in dialogue with everything. She is world champion at shot-putting the great questions. It hardly matters what the title is: the subject itself is always 'the outermost question being asked me by the World today.' What counts is the hope in questioning itself, not the answers."
So much of her poetry is peripheral, and tells a story as it winds down the road of a particular thought until she finds it. It is as though she is working towards a thought instead of having a pre-determined idea to synthetically achieve. Her poetic voice often searches through stanza after stanza and then when she does find it, it seems that what she finds is a message that stands out in gleaming epiphany, but only for a moment before descending again. Another one of the things I enjoy about her poetry is her relevance to modernity, but not through her ironic, constant references to classics and philosophy alone. Through her use of multiple stimuli in each poem and the quickness of her movements from one subject to the other, when they are seemingly unrelated, she paints an image of our era of distractions and sensationalism. She finds a language with which to speak to those of us-- (most of us)-- who, as a result of our culture, cannot focus on a single thing for very long, and in my opinion she uses this as an advantage which can propel the reader through her fast-paced discourse. She has ways to make you concentrate-- and they involve the need to read her poems more than once. Once you begin a poem, you're hooked-- her lines are often short and her less recent work involves odd punctuation, but it does not serve as interruption.
Sometimes she meanders around a word, but does not say it. Such as when in the line "comes fast--mediate-- immediate--invent, inspire..." I am tempted to think of the word meditate, but of course she does not say it, because the craft with which she works is indirectness, which is sometimes the best way to say something, because the body of work poses the question "who are you" and it does not have to be answered by Graham if she says the words to give the reader the sense that the words are coming not from elsewhere, and not from her, but from themselves-- and besides perhaps the words are divinely inspired, perhaps like the oracle, she does not take ownership. 
I wonder if one would be able to arrive at that moment of epiphany, unless they were in tune with modern consciousness enough to match the sensibility of her poems, enough that the two combined could carry you through the poem in a single current. These moments of epiphany are disjointed, untouched, and stand out in a higher light than the rest of her lines, although wholly dependent on them to be heard. Her poems remind me that you cannot simply have the bright moments of clarity stand alone and omit the journey to them; I wonder if, isolated, they would have the same effect on a reader as opposed to being read in context. (I highly doubt it.) Of course, the same poem will have different meanings to some people as compared to others-- but I wonder if the gravity of the emotional impact on one reader can be equivalent to another's. All I know is that I first approached Jorie Graham's work with the same standard skepticism anyone else would have in our society, and still always leave her poems being ridiculously impressed-- which is why I believe in the way she breaks down the wall of modernity by channeling a language we can relate to and understand.
P.S.-- Almost six months after hearing her read her poems I remember her narration, and the tone of voice and clarity of certain lines of her poems. In "Fast," the words are "you will not be understood."
In another one of her poems called "Two Paintings by Gustav Klimt," I remember: "why be afraid?"

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