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Journal Article


Bedient, Calvin


Salmagundi (1998)



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Like a Chafing of the Visible*


Soul Thinks

Soul—according to "Soul Says," the afterword of Jorie Graham's fourth book, Region of Unlikeness—doesn't want to be "held by brittle-ness, shapeliness. / By meaning." But neither is it happily enmeshed "in hunger, in boredom, the spindrift, the ticket" (a grammatical trashing of logic, of order). Not even with the sweet intrigue of

The flash of a voice. The river glints.

The mother opens the tablecloth up into the wind

—not even if you throw in the likes of these.

"A form of matter," Soul is the form that wants to matter, and the matter that wants form. But form is empty of meaning. Meaning is Being-in-indivision. "I must uphold—faultless—each outline—up—," says her guardian angel of point of view in The Errancy, "each sloughing-off of meaning / into form." Yet, in a way, Soul belongs (inexactly) where it can never belong (exactly), here where it is idiomized but out of key, inappropriate, curious, driven, harried, irked, unappeased, tired, oh so tired, and absurd. Soul is logically impossible, as Being is impassable.

What can Soul do? At its most heroic, go somewhat shamefaced to meet its fate:

Now then, I said, I go to meet that which I like to
(even though the wave break and drown me in laughter)
the wave breaking, the wave drowning me in laughter—

(Compare the opening of the new poem, "Studies in Secrecy": "The secret we don't know we're trying to find, the thing ««-/seen,/ is it ironic?") Or perhaps it is most heroic when it thinks about its dilemma—thinks and thinks and thinks—whatever the inevitable errancy. This is its role in Graham's new book.

The great virtue of "Soul Says" is that it thinks profoundly in compression; it doesn't think out all its folds like an obsessed person trying to smooth out completely a savagely crumpled sheet of paper. Yet there is drama, depth, weight, and philosophical nobility in such thought-investigation. The Errancy is replete with these qualities—an extraordinarily rich and grand achievement.

The Skin of Days

The Errancy carries to a logical extreme (perhaps; leave it to this poet to try and go further) the project of Graham's two preceding volumes, Region of Unlikeness and Materialism: that of defleshing story until it's nearly all thought. The beauty of the earlier book The End of Beauty was that it thought by means of myth, in mythic flesh, even as it thought myth through, brilliantly. Of course, it whispered throughout, the story pan is already a form of soul-thought, archetypal. Even so, it tolerated narrative—that which Graham has more and more sought to reduce to a detached skin, in the image of her brutal parable "Chaos": "Here is the skin of days in the one hand of God, drooping, the face running like ink in rain."

By now, in Graham's work, "the storyline" is a slur-motif. That—fakery! That paltriness! Soul distrusts—dislikes—all such petty patchwork coherences. It wants, what it will never achieve, the articulation of an inarticulable totality.

*Review of Jorie Graham, The Errancy: Poems (N.Y.: The Ecco Press, 1997)