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The Yorkshire Post (2006)

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Slow But Sure Spun Truths Unravelled to Perfection
Frances Levinson

Jorie Graham is about as famous as a poet gets in North America. She teaches at Harvard, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996, and has even given rise to a poetry website dedicated to uncovering all the contests she allegedly rigged by selecting former students.

Despite this, she is still relatively unknown in the UK - which is a shame since she is not only one of the most famous but one of the most original poets of her generation. Risking obscurity and even preciousness, at her best she fuses cerebral and spiritual, doubt and commitment; and Overlord, driven in part by America's war on Iraq, contains some of her most satisfying work yet.

These poems are both publicly political and intensely private, a juxtaposition that allows Graham to explore how collective action blossoms from, and affects, the individual's idea of him or herself. In 'Praying (Attempt of June 8 '03)', the speaker lies beside her sleeping lover, thinking of the war happening elsewhere, its "stichery of fire." The two scenes, bedroom and battlefield, bleed into one another: the counting done to fall asleep becomes the counting of the dead, and the counting of the stars by a child, all part of the same dream in which "the number drops out of mind."

Elsewhere, in 'Europe', a walk on Omaha Beach becomes a meditation on the future we create for our children, which is like the space occupied by electrons, both "real" and "made entirely of / prediction."

Something similar could be said of Graham's style. Her poems are not polished lyric artefacts, although she is more than capable of such effects - the perfect simile, like "I search for gratitude, as if feeling around in a / park after nightfall for a lost hat."('Praying (Attempt of Feb 6 '04)). Instead they are tissues of thought, tracings of the expansive, uncertain movement of consciousness. Objecting to what she termed 'the marketplace of truth', where poems are 'nailed down' by interpreters, she resists any kind of finality. This is not to say there is no truth, - you could hardly leave this collection without a renewed sense of the pity of war - but that truth is a matter of process. Reading her poetry there is no sudden epiphanic flash, but a gradual swivelling towards the light.