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Vendler, Helen


The Given and the Made: Strategies of Poetic Redefinition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p.91-130 (1995)

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Jorie Graham, the fourth of my instances of postwar American poetry, is what used to be called a philosophical poet. Her original donnie is a complex one, consisting, linguistically, of trilingualism in American English, Italian, and French. 'I was taught three / / names for the tree facing my window.... / Castagno. ... / Chassagne. .. ./And then chestnut.' Graham grew up in Italy, though born of American parents - a Jewish-American artist mother and an Irish-American writer father. To borrow a phrase from Seamus Heaney, is it any wonder that when she thought she would have second thoughts? That second thought that we call philosophical wonder was reinforced in Graham by her schooling at the Rome Lycee Français, where, in philosophy class, students were regularly assigned essays on such intimidating abstractions as 'Justice' or 'Being.' Graham's family had close relations with other writers, artists, and filmmakers in Rome, and in fact Graham first came to live in the United States in her twenties, when, after studying at the Sorbonne, she arrived at New York University to study filmmaking with Martin Scorcese. During the marriage that gave her the name Graham, she studied writing at both Columbia University and the University of Iowa. She is now Professor of English in the Writer's Workshop at Iowa, where she and her husband, the poet and essayist James Galvin, both teach. (Her daughter Emily appears occasionally in the poems.)

I mention these biographical facts because they help to explain some of the thematic features of Graham's writing Italy (its landscapes, its saints), the history of the Holocaust (seen in recurring episodes), and the work of both early and modern painters (Piero della Francesca, Luca Signorelli, Klimt, Pollock, Rothko). They also help to account for certain technical aspects of her poetry - its cinematic strategies (close and far focus, panning, jump-cutting, emphasis on point of view and on looking), its recourse to enfolded European historical vignettes, its persistent use of philosophical diction, and, most centrally, its trying-on of several different linguistic expressions for the 'same thing' - as though language itself offered no perfect match for the material world, and as though 'English' were a congeries of sub-languages, each with its own 'flavor.' Most of all, I suspect, the rhythms of Italian - the language which surrounded Graham from her youngest years – lie behind her music in English. It was that music - a set of rhythms I hadn't heard before in American poetry – which first drew me to Graham, many years ago, when a few poems of hers were printed in The American Poetry Review.

Platonic dualism is both Graham's donnie and her demon: her recent names for the antagonists in that dualism – Matter and Interpretation - show the Protean variability of the terms of dualism under her hands. She brings into postwar American poetry the urgent and inescapable need of the modern writer to embody in art a non-teleological universe a universe without philosophical coherence though bound by physical law, a universe unconscious of us but which constitutes, by its materiality, our consciousness. For Graham, what used to be called spirituality is a fact of life as self-evident as materiality. Perhaps no-one brought up in Italy - with its churches, its music, its paintings, its grandeur of aspiration could fail to think of the spiritual activity of consciousness as wholly real and productive, something which deserves a grander denomination than either of its secular names, 'thought' and 'aesthetic conception.' Graham's deepest subject is how to represent the unboundedness and intensity of aspiration as it extends itself to fullest self-reflexivity with ample awareness of its own creative powers. But Graham refuses to detach this metaphysical inquiry from either the passing perceptual flow of the here-and-now or the hideous recollective flow of the there-and-then that we call 'history.'

The tension caused in Graham's work by the counter-pulls of aspiration, material perception, and historical accountability assumes different forms in her five books, each substantially longer than the one before: Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980); Erosion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983); The End of Beauty (New York: Ecco, 1987): Region of Unlikeness (New York: Ecco, 1991): and Materialism (Hopewell. N.J.: Ecco, 1993). These books contain, by my count, 151 poems (some of them long sequences) occupying some 500 pages. Like Lowell and Berryman, Graham has produced a daunting body of work, but since it is only now beginning to receive critical codification, there are in her case few received ideas to work with or against. I will track Graham's journey from the unnameable toward 'materialism' - a word in itself already problematic by considering one typical and thoroughly achieved poem from each of her books, conscious of how limited a sample of her work is thereby afforded, but firm in my belief that these five poems are representative of her ambitious pursuit of a new poetry', as 'material' as it is 'spiritual.'

Graham's first volume takes its arresting title from Also sprach Zarathustra: 'But he who is wisest among you, he also is only a discord and hybrid of plant and of ghost.' The animal, as a category, is conspicuously absent from this formulation. While plants are material, they are neither carnal nor appetitive; and ghosts, deprived of corporeality, have memory but not sensual perception. Human beings are discords, hybrids, then, but also curiously deprived (in this Nietzschean formulation) of immersion in the body. The body is a site of puzzlement, its relation to thought almost unformulatable. In Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts, Graham's love of conceptual pattern of the orienting grids of thought - questions, over and over, its perpetually vexed relation to sensory perception even before the two are formulated in language. Here is the poem 'The Geese,' which displays two contrasting patterns - one in the sky, made by the ambitious, goal-directed 'conceptual' paths of migrating geese, and another, parallel one on the earth, made by the textual netting of spiderwebs. There are two organizing remarks in the poem. The first remark expresses a fear of being overwhelmed by 'texture' - the infinite web-like registering of perceptual data that cannot be codified either by time (into 'history') or by space (into 'place'); the second remark expresses a dissatisfaction with the voyaging mind alone, since the body tells the mind that in its lofty activity it has missed something crucial, 'a bedrock poverty':

The Geese

Today as I hang out the wash I see them again, a code

as urgent as elegant,

tapering with goals.

For days they have been crossing. We live beneath these geese

as if beneath the passage of time, or a most perfect heading.

Sometimes I fear their relevance.

Closest at hand,

between the lines

the spiders Imitate the paths the geese won't stray from,

imitate them endlessly to no avail:

things will not remain connected,

will not heal,

and the world thickens with texture instead of history,

texture Instead of place.

Yet the small fear of the spiders

binds and binds

the pins to the lines, the lines to the eaves, to the pincushion bush,

as If, at any time, things could fall further apart

and nothing could help them

recover their meaning. And If these spiders had their way,

chainllnk over the visible world,

would we be In or out? I turn to go back in.

There Is a feeling the body gives the mind

of having missed something, a bedrock poverty, like falling

without the sense that you are passing through one world,

that you could reach another

anytime. Instead the real

is crossing you,

your body an arrival

you know Is false but can't outrun. And somewhere in between

these geese forever entering and

these spiders turning back,

this astonishing delay, the everyday, takes place.

(Hybrids, 38-39)

The two patterns - the skyey adventurousness of the geese, the anxious closures of the spiders - dictate the alternately expansive and contracting lines of Graham's stanzas. Unable to decide between the directed urgency of the mind and the restrictive chainlink of perception, Graham stops 'somewhere in between,' in 'the astonishing delay, the everyday.' (Later, in The End of Beauty, she will write a poem called 'Self-Portraitas Hurry and Delay,' where the spiders' weavings have turned into Penelope's web.)

'The Geese' is original in its juxtaposition of two matching and yet contrastive instinctual patterns, and in its refusing to choose one over the other, instead taking as its resting-place the 'delay' between them. Yet the stanzas in which these things take place are, perhaps, imperfectly articulated with the crux that stimulates them, the relation of body to mind. The two movements that close the poem - the one, a mental fall without a sense of traversing reality; the other, the real that 'cross[es] you' in a false 'arrival' in the body - are not quite clear enough in themselves or in their relation to the adventurous geese and the spiders fearfully binding things against a potential disintegration. And yet the perplexity they embody is at least partially conveyed: that all perception arrives first at and through the body, and that the ambitious mind cannot 'outrun' the body, which always precedes it. How to give bodily perception its due in thought is a question already vexing Graham's verse. How to match thought and perception with language remains as yet an unnamed problem.

The procedure of 'The Geese' is one that many of Graham's early poems will follow. First, a mundane beginning (here, 'hang[ing]out the wash') situates the speaker in the natural world; then, a natural emblem or set of emblems (here, the geese and spiders) is carefully rendered; next, a quasi-philosophical formulation of a problem is offered; and finally there appears a resolution, which may, and often does, evade the terms in which 'philosophy' has posed (or would pose) the original problem. The Wittgensteinian move away from the original anterior and imprisoning concepts (which would always dictate a solution within their own terms) is a liberating one for Graham here as elsewhere - and is enacted. In 'The Geese,' by the single concluding line of the poem, with its 'astonishing delay, the everyday,' freeing the awaited remainder of its incomplete stanza into invisibility, openness and escape.

In 'The Geese,' 'history' is only a word. Graham's natural emblems, the geese and spiders, are themselves detached from history; and 'the everyday,' while it gives something in place of appalling random 'texture,' does not embody memory, either personal or historical, but remains an interval, without any apparent continuity with the past. Elsewhere in Graham's first volume, the past frightens by its destructive completeness – it is too great to be remembered, and too intimidating in its gaps representing the forgotten, 'the world too large to fit.' In the poem 'Framing' (Hybrids, 35), which puts, implicitly, the question of how closely representation matches reality, Graham sees herself, in a childhood photograph, looking at something the photo leaves out:

Something is left out, something left behind. As, for instance,

in this photo of myself at four, the eyes

focus elsewhere, the hand interrupted mid-air by some enormous



What was the lost object of the child's arrested glance? One will never know, because it is not in the photo/memory:

Within, it would have been a mere event.

not destructive as it is now. destructive as the past remains,

becomes, by knowing more than we do.

We might have foreseen, given this poem, that Graham would have to go on to recover the destructive past - not only in her personal history but in some more general history of human behavior, that which is 'outside' the personal snapshot. And by the time of Erosion, her next book, she is able to see that (to quote one poem called 'Mother of Vinegar') 'contained damage makes for beauty' (Erosion, 36). A fear of infinite extension like that ascribed in 'Geese' to the spiders generates the word 'contained' in this phrase, but the phrase expresses as well a hope for a new beauty that can incorporate the destructive past. Often, in Erosion, the past appears through past artists - Klimt, Keats, Herzog, Goya, Berryman, Masaccio, Signorelli. But there are other, more dangerous, appearances of the material past, such as the exhumed and blackened body of Saint Clare in Assisi, the spectacle of Graham's grandmother in the Jewish Geriatric Home on Long Island, or, most hazardously (in a poem called 'History'), events of World War II. (The title 'History' is one that Graham will re-use, twice, in Region of Unlikeness, a volume that also contains poems called 'Short History of the West' and 'The Phase after History').

I do not want to take the poem 'History' as my representative example from Erosion, because Graham will treat the theme of history more successfully later. But I do want to point out that this poem raises a topic that reappears in her recent volume Materialism - the denial, on the part of some skeptics (not to give them a worse name), of the reality of the Holocaust. In 'History,' Graham juxtaposes to a mention of that denial a 1942 photograph of a 'man with his own/ genitalia In his mouth and hundreds of/slow holes / a pitchfork has opened/over his face,' as though documentary evidence could refute the skeptic's desire that the Holocaust be deniable. As if dissatisfied herself with the witness of bloodless photography, Graham offers a more potent emblem of history: sitting before an evening fire in the hearth, a man is blinded and his wife killed as a left-over grenade from the war, embedded in the tree the man has chopped up for firewood, explodes (Erosion, 64-65). History, then, is not a two-dimensional remnant, like a photograph; it is an active force, like the delayed violence of the grenade. And history does not simply record; it evaluates:

For history

is the opposite

of the eye

for whom, for instance, six million bodies in portions

of hundreds and

the flowerpots broken by a sudden wind stand as


(Erosion, 64)

The anger behind such a statement is as yet unmodulated by exploration of both recorded history and the (variously motivated) denial of history. When Graham returns, in Materialism, to Lyotard's supposition-for-argument's-sake that there can be no history of victimage because the victims, being absent, cannot testify to the event of their disappearance, she presents his discourse as one of many discourses competing for materialization in the world, all of them comprising the unavoidable dialectic in which the poet necessarily moves.

I return now from this anticipatory digression on Graham's first poem called 'History' to quote the more successful work I want to take as my representative example from Erosion: the poem called 'At Luca Signorelli's Resurrection of the Body.' This poem is written in the short, musing, in-and-out delaying phrases that characterize Graham's style at this period, phrases grouped in an orderly stanzaic style standing for gradual and patient advance, advance, advance - without any real promise of final closure. These phrases reflect, in this poem, Graham's sense of Signorelli's deliberate search for accuracy, as he dissected corpses so as to understand human musculature and articulation:

   ... In his studio

Luca Signorelli

in the name ofGod

and Science

and the believable

broke into the body

studying arrival.

But the wall

of the flesh

opens endlessly.

its vanishing point so deep

and receding

we have yet to find it.

to have it

stop us. So he cut


graduating slowly

from the symbolic

to the beautiful. How far

is true?

It is because of his patient dissection that Signorelli can leave behind the flat, symbolic, medieval rendering of persons and depict instead, with unprecedented accuracy and intimacy, the actual beauty of flesh. This is nowhere more evident than in the great painting (from which Graham takes her poem) of the Resurrection of the Bodies in the Cappella Nuova of Orvieto Cathedral. The doctrine of the General Resurrection symbolizes, of course, the insufficiency of the soul alone as a representation for the human: though the redeemed dead enjoy eternal blessedness without their bodies, and presumably could do so forever, nonetheless, at the Last Judgment, when time comes to an end, the bodies of the dead will be reconstituted, and the souls in heaven will be allowed reunion with their long-lost flesh.

Signorelli, with enormous sympathy for the prolonged yearning for the body which he imagines must be felt, even in heaven, by the disembodied souls of the dead, shows them on the Last Day eagerly re-finding their individual bodies - names, speech. perfected human flesh - and finding human company once again, too, in the re-animated bodies of others. Unable merely to rejoice in the moment with Signorelli and his subjects, the speaker in Graham's poem persistently questions the premise of the painting - that the eagerness of the spirit to rejoin the flesh is understandable and good:

See how they hurry

to enter

their bodies,

these spirits.

Is it better. flesh.

that they

should hurry so?

From above

the green-winged angels

blare down

trumpets and light. But

they don't care,

they hurry to congregate,

they hurry

into speech, until

it's a marketplace.

it is humanity. But still

we wonder

in the chancel

of the dark cathedral,

is it better. back?

The artist

has tried to make it so: each tendon

they press

to re-enter

is perfect. But is it


they're after.

pulling themselves up

through the soil

into the weightedness, the color,

into the eye

of the painter?

... They keep on


wanting names,



The speaker warns the heedless spirits that 'there is no entrance, / only entering.' The illimitable nature of sense-perception guarantees, for Graham, that one is never at rest in the body: once one possesses a body, the clear geometric absolutes of the spirit are confused by the ceaseless profusion of sense-data that must somehow be put into relation with the knowledge proper to the soul. This is an interminable process ' there is no / entrance, / only entering.' 

It is only now that Graham can face the question that must conclude Signorelli's progress from the Medieval symbolic to the Renaissance beautiful: 'How far is true?' Modernity, because of the importance it ascribes to empirical knowledge, demands that art be true as well as beautiful; and Signorelli, pursuing his Renaissance aesthetic ideal of a believable and beautiful rendering of flesh, has almost unwittingly stumbled, through his dissections, on empiricism. And yet the word 'true' for Graham does not mean representational accuracy or scientific accuracy alone; the true, for an artist, must involve the accurate transmutation of feeling into knowledge, perception into categorization. Therefore, to close her poem, Graham invokes the exemplary anecdote of Luca Signorelli's dissection of the body of his son, dead by violence. Signorelli finds the true mending of grief in acquiring an exhaustive knowledge of the effects of violent death on the flesh of his flesh:

When his one son

died violently,

he had the body brought to him

and laid it

on the drawing-table,

and stood

at a certain distance

awaiting the best

possible light, the best depth

of day,

then with beauty and care

and technique

and judgment, cut into

shadow, cut

into bone and sinew and every


in which the cold light


It took him days

that deep

caress, cutting,


until his mind

could climb into

the open flesh and

mend itself.

Like 'The Geese,' this poem ends with an incomplete stanza. The body of his son cannot appear to Signorelli under the sign of the symbolic or the sign of the beautiful; it bears the wound of truth, and the father's mind, wounded by the wound of the son, has further to go as the poem ends two-thirds of the way through a stanza. The extended analytic process of examining grief under a cold light is, for Graham as for Signorelli, the necessary precedent to art. Fact, including the fact of feeling, must undergo a long testing by analytic understanding before it can become, as art, 'true.' The body, in this formulation, becomes the subject of intimate and prolonged examination by the investigative mind; and it is in this somewhat uneasy way, with a 'mended' mind dominating the extinguished body, that Graham here reconciles the cohabitation of the spirit with the flesh. Even the violence of history can be contained within analysis; but the earlier aphorism, 'Contained damage makes for beauty,' has now to be emended to 'Damage, if investigated in a cold light, can be contained in beauty insofar as beauty is an ongoing entrance into the true.' Materialism, for Graham at this point, is still governed by intellectual analysis; and the true, even if it is a process rather than a conclusion, comes by even and measured and deliberate steps by the spirit through the evidence of matter. Yet against the closing image of Signorelli mending his marred heart by analysis of his son's body, we feel the earlier-described desire of the spirits of the dead, who want not to analyze the body but to join its living self in ecstatic oneness. That sensual desire, too, is Graham's own, and it is bound to come into conflict with the 'cold' analytic desire of the mind. Which is the truth of 'materialism' - its estatic livingness or its cold otherness?

The End of Beauty, Graham's third book, explores this question most thoroughly in a poem too long to quote or to unravel here, 'Pollock and Canvas' (81-89). Signorelli's exploratory dissection of the single contained physical unit will not serve any longer as a metaphor for the relation of mind to body, of the interpretative to the material. Jackson Pollock's drip paintings contain too much of the improvisational and the accidental in their aesthetic for any pre-ordained analytic idea to govern their execution. Graham asks, here, whether one can 'let ... the made wade out into danger,/let ... the form slur out into flaw, in-//conclusiveness?' (86) If so, then chance begins to play an increasingly large part in creation, as even God discovered when his first creatures encountered the serpent, changing the story as he had envisaged it:

Then He rested letting in chance letting in

any wind any shadow quick with minutes, and whimsy,

through the light, letting the snake the turning

in. Then things not yet true

which slip in

are true,

aren't they?

Pollock's suspended stream of paint - as he bends over the canvas painting vertically, not horizontally - is presided over by one of the Graces, but not a conventionally aesthetic one: she is 'this girl all accident all instead-of, of the graces the / most violent one, the one all gash, all description.' By avoiding the usual position of artist and easel, and by using drips rather than brushstrokes, Pollock hopes to change the very nature of painting; and yet, mysteriously, he ends up creating a painting in some way continuous with the tradition. 'Oh but we wanted to paint what is not beauty, how can one paint what is/not beauty ...?' asks Graham. 

To allow a primacy of the material over the spiritual, to admit into art the unexpected detour, the chance event, whimsy even, is to be forced to abandon the neat stanzas of a 'classical' poem like the one about Signorelli. It is to allow an equal role to the sensual, to make form mirror the unstoppable avalanche of sensations and the equal avalanche of units of verbal consciousness responding to those sensations. This is a dualism of sorts, but more confusing than the Platonic and Cartesian dualism with which Graham had begun. The new dualism creates the chief group of poems in The End of Beauty, seven dual self-portraits. Here are their titles:

Self-Portrait As the Gesture between Them

Self-Portrait As Both Parties

Orpheus and Eurydice

Self-Portrait as Apollo and Daphne

Self-Portrait as Hurry and Delay

Self-Portrait as Demeter and Persephone

Noli Me Tangere

These poems make up more than a quarter of The End of Beauty, and draw on some of the chief myths of the West. The first two are about Adam and Eve; the next four are about personages from classical myth ('Self-Portrait as Hurry and Delay' is about Penelope as weaver and unweaver); and the last - which, were it named in the same fashion as the others, would have to be called 'Self-Portrait as Jesus and Mary Magdalen' - is about the encounter directly after the Resurrection, enacting Mary's wish to close the gap between herself and Jesus, and his requiring, by his 'Noli me tangere,' that the gap remain inviolate. These are very rich poems, suggesting variously that there is always a 'gesture between' two points of opposition; that there 'is a way to be 'both parties' at the same time; and that one may find a way to create an alternating current, so to speak, between the weaving of life into the temporary closure of a shaped text, and the unweaving of that text into a less closed form. Many of these poems would repay analysis as representations of female identity, not least 'Self-Portrait as Demeter and Persephone,' where Graham, herself a daughter, finds herself also the mother of a daughter, and suggests that both roles in the myth are open to her at once. But since my topic is the material and its increasing claims on Graham, thematically, formally, and linguistically, I leave the question of genre (self-portraiture), and the question o( gender (identities available to women) aside, and take as my exemplary text from The End of Beauty a poem called 'To the Reader' (23-25).

This is neither the most successful nor the most moving of the poems in the book, but it is the most ominous. Briefly put, it is about one square yard of earth: a girl wants to 'catalogue and press onto the page all she could find in it/and name.' It is her project 'for Science Fair' (most American secondary schools run a Science Fair exhibiting the individual experiments of the students). The project of the poem is another version of Signorelli's analysis, hoping to find adequate language for the given, but there is no longer available for inspection a self-contained unit like a body. Instead, what is scrutinized is an arbitrarily chosen and equally arbitrarily delimited sample of the earth, the planet itself being by reason of its immensity beyond total analysis. The rule of this partial analysis is that everything found within the arbitrarily chosen square-yard sample must be included:

She took the spade and drew the lines. Right through

the weedbeds, lichen, moss, keeping the halves of things that landed


by chance, new leaves, riffraff the wind blew in – 

. . . .

her hole in the loam like a saying in the midst of the field of patience,

fattening the air above it with detail,

an embellishment on the April air,

the rendezvous of hands and earth -


This sounds, as an incorporation of materialism, promising - an aesthetic of the earth, yes, but geometrically and scientifically delimited; an aesthetic of the totality, yes, but of a single indicative sample of it; an aesthetic of chance, yes, but one in which chance becomes - in a Herbertian word - an 'embellishment'; an aesthetic of the rendezvous of the spiritual and the material, yes, but one in which the spiritual is represented by the diligent, executive, and earth-stained hand rather than by the pure eye of contemplation. Surely that which the hand excavates can be named? It is a temptation, for the poet, toleave it at that:

Say we leave her there, squatting down, haunches up,

pulling the weeds up with tweezers.

pulling the thriving apart into the true,

each seedpod each worm on the way down retrieved into a

plastic bag (shall I compare thee). Say we

leave her there, where else is there to go?

After all, have we not satisfied our craving for the material? 'We want it to stick to us,' says Graham, 'hands not full but not clean.' Yet the potential inadequacy of language (each retrieved item demanding its own simile in 'shall I compare thee') lurks as a danger to the catalogue. 

The apparent satisfaction of this solution is suddenly undone by a new imagining. What if this solid, palpable, diggable, mined-for-comparison material gave way underneath us, and the hole in the loam suddenly became a true see-through-able hole, a vacancy, the unnameable? It is only now that we notice, at the beginning of the poem, the extent to which the square-yard-cataloguing of the material world has been described as a defense: 'I swear to you,' says Graham, 'she wanted back into the shut, the slow,//a ground onto

which to say This is my actual life, Good Morning':

onto which to say That girl on her knees who is me

is still digging that square yard of land up

to catalogue.

The trouble, Graham sees, is that material place - that one square yard of earth - is always already under interpretation - it might be the very place 'where the gods fought the giants and monsters'; and it may not be representative or indicative, 'not a chosen place but a place/blundered into.' A true aesthetic of the material could not impose a Platonic rectangle or even a Linnaean taxonomy on its subject matter. The material, as a realm, is consequently 'a place which is a meadow with a hole in it' - the hole the possibility of interminable and openended interpretation, as my bracketed unfoldings suggest:

and some crawl through such a hole to the other place

[descending like Orpheus, through earth to its antithesis, the

underworld: or like Freud, who beneath material life found

the unconscious]

and some use it to count with and buy with

[making mathematical and commercial interpretations of

material substance]

and some hide in it and see Him go by

[investing matter with a Christian core].

But these potential responses to matter's vulnerability to interpretation - even if they represent Graham's own past inclinations - are not now available to her. In the past, it is true, she had been drawn to antithesis, to 'the other place,' in her investigation of duality; and she had, in her 'Science Fair' phase, been attracted to an almost geological sampling of materiality. She had even felt, like Mary Magdalen, the yearning to reassure herself of the risen Jesus's materiality. But her new foreboding suspicion is that interpretation is not achieved by dividing matter into antitheses, nor by inventorying matter through taxonomy, nor by transcending matter through visionary yearning. The desire for interpretation is simply a yawning vacancy, lethal to all hope of integrated summary in language. Look long enough at anything with the close-focus of interpretation and you kill not only yourself as receptor but also your object of vision - encountering, in the moment of its extinction, only a recursive version of yourself starting over:

and to some it is the hole on the back of the man running

through which what's coming towards him is coming into him,

growing larger,

a hole in his chest through which the trees in the distance are seen

growing larger shoving out sky shoving out storyline

until it's close it's all you can see this moment this hole in his back

in which now a girl with a weed and a notebook appears.

By the time that the Science-Fair hole in the loam becomes a hole in the chest and then in the back of a fleeing man unable to escape the overwhelming presence of the world invading him, 'surface' has become treacherous, 'a meadow with a hole in it.' Terra firma has turned into 'terra infidel' (a phrase from Stevens' 'Esthétique du Mal' which Graham adopts in the poem 'The Right to Life' in Materialism).

The formal consequences, for Graham's verse, of the insusceptibility of matter to dependable interpretation are several. The most evident onj:l here is of course the way in which the ending of the poem returns us, in circular fashion, to the beginning: the 'girl with a weed and a notebook' reappears and must re-begin her Sisyphean task of examining a square yard of matter. The denial of closure in this almost mechanical way is, however, not a truly 'open' ending; and Graham will eventually repudiate the notion of a perpetual re-beginning in the same place. One cannot fill up the bottomless and lethal hole with another square yard of earth and start over. 

If the first formal consequence of interpretative instability is a lack of true closure, the second, visible throughout The End of Beauty, is Graham's avoidance of her former regular stanzas in favor of units of unpredictable length. Stanzas were themselves reassuring in their recurrent isometric symmetry; Graham must now disassemble them, ostentatiously separating single lines by successive Arabic numbers, as though each line were a free-standing item, a freeze-frame in a stop-and-start film. This is her technique in the first, and very beautiful, Genesis-poem of The End of Beauty, 'Self-Portrait as the Gesture between Them' (3-8), in which Eve's proffering of the apple to Adam - a gesture made iconic by centuries of painting stands for the will-to-deviate-from-the-preordained-story, for the necessary appearance, in all creative impulse, of the stranger-serpent:


The gesture like a fruit torn from a limb, torn swiftly.


The whole bough bending then springing back as if from sudden



The rip in the fabric where the action begins, the opening of the

narrowpassage ...


so that she had to turn and touch him to give it away


to have him pick it from her as the answer takes the question ...


the balance like an apple held up into the sunlight


then taken down, the air changing by its passage, the feeling of being



of being not quite right for the place, not quite the thing that's



the feeling of being a digression not the link in the argument,

a new direction. an offshoot, the limb going on elsewhere....


and loving that error, loving that filial form, that break from



where the complex mechanism fails, where the stranger appears in

the clearing,


out of nowhere and uncalled for, out of nowhere to share the day.

Even in this truncated quotation, Graham's revision of the ordinary form of narration is startlingly visible. Formally speaking, 'smooth,' uninterrupted, unproblematic narration can no longer, for Graham, represent experience, which is forever probing, tentative, anticipatory, and open-ended, truly represented only when the slow increments by which it happens are mimicked in unmistakable linguistic patterns of hesitation and inquiry and gradual realization. The open-ended 'day' at the end - who knows what the serpent who has appeared 'out of nowhere' will provoke next? - certifies that the inaugurating 'gesture between them' is one of many that will follow. The self-portrait here must be a provisional one - and is, as I have said, followed by many other similarly provisional self-portraits as The End of Beauty unfolds. Language incorporates ever smaller increments of experience in each of its provisional gestures towards formulation; is any single one of these numbered gestures satisfactory, for the name of the moment? That is the inquiry implicitly imposed by the form.

Writing about herself in the third person (the girl with the notebook, Eve) is, in Graham, another formal consequence of matter's resistance to interpretation. The apparently unproblematic access to 'the self afforded by the traditional lyric 'I' suggests that there is only one conceivable self-portrait, not the successive ones afforded by, for instance, a triangulation of the self through myth - Graham's principal tactic in The End of Beauty. Another formal consequence of the freeze-frame representation of the spontaneous evolving of experience is Graham's reliance on the present participle as the principal grammatical vehicle of perception. Thus she suspends both the past (the principle of that which has been extinguished) and the future (the principle of that which will be extinguished), and writes in 'the delay' between the two. But the present participle cannot forever bar from Graham's sight either history (the past) or eschatology (the determined future). It is no accident that in Graham's next volume, Region of Unlikeness, history will struggle against presentness for domination. Though the present moment seems, in its perceptual fullness, nameable (if only just), the past, irretrievable and disputed, threatens to vanish utterly into the nameless.

The concerns about extinction of Region of Unlikeness are presaged in the penultimate poem in The End of Beauty, an ode to the West Wind - 'stopless wind' - which derives from Shelley's ode, but which emphasizes throughout, unlike Shelley's ode, the purely abstract quality of the wind - 'wind of the theorems, / of proof, square root of light, / / chaos of truth.' The 'endless evenness' of universal destruction, 'the race you start [the flowers] on and will not let them win,' is the law of extinction basic to the physical universe; and what can be the relation of this grim cosmic law to the law of human feeling and expression? 'What is your law to my law, unhurried hurrying?' asks Graham of the wind. Graham adapts her title for this poem, 'Of Forced Sightes and Trusty Ferefulness,' from Wyatt's Petrarchan sonnet, 'My galley charged with forgetfulness':

My galley charged with forgetfulness

Thorough sharp seas, in winter nights doth pass....

An endless wind doth tear the sail apace

afforced sighs, and trusty fearfulness ....

Drowned is reason that should me confort,

And I remain despairing of the port.

In homage to Wyatt's sonnet-quatrains, Graham writes her poem of the 'endless wind' in four-line stanzas, but stanzas of an irregularity that marks how far the modem verse of process must depart from the isometric quatrains of the sonnet tradition. By the end of the poem, as the poet attempts to join her law of song - drawn from the late autumn birds foraging for crumbs under her window - to the unstoppable destructive hurry of the cosmic wind, we can see that the old question from the Signorelli poem - 'How far is true?' no longer has the one-directional answer 'Further inside.' The trackless plain of the ocean is directionless, insusceptible to the rudder of analytic Reason:

Oh hollow

charged with forgetfulness

through wind, through winter nights, we'll pass,

steering with crumbs, with words,

making of every hour

a thought, remembering

by pain and rhyme and arabesques of foraging

the formula for theft

under your sky that keeps

sliding away

married to hurry

and grim song.

The 'white jury' of the wind turns away once its extinctions are completed, its 'deep justice done.' To investigate the justice of material extinction, perceptual and even metaphorical search will not suffice; evidence from history becomes necessary to the poet. Sensory presentness must give way, analytically, to 'the morning after.' The frustration of taking the long historical view, compared to the intimate close-focus view of present-participial writing, is expressed in a quasi-sonnet entitled 'Act III, Sc. 2' (66), its title suggesting that we are already half-way through the play:

Look she said this is not the distance

we wanted to stay at - We wanted to get

close, very close. But what

is the way in again? And is it

too late? She could hear the actions

rushing past - but they are on

another track. And in the silence,

or whatever it is that follows,

there was still the buzzing: motes, spores,

aftereffects and whatnot recalled the morning after.

Then the thickness you can't get past called waiting.

Then the you, whoever you are, peering down to see if it's done yet.

Then just the look on things of being looked-at.

Then just the look on things of being seen.

This remarkable little poem represents an anthropomorphized Whitmanian God ('you, whoever you are' from 'As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life') who peers down at his creation to see if It is done yet, like a dish set to cook in an oven. At completion, it will be looked-at. After completion, it will be seen. History is something peered at by its composing author-deity, looked at when 'done' by its author-as-judge, and finally seen only by inhabitants of the next succeeding epoch. History, untranscendent, brings out in Graham the colloquial diction that mentions 'aftereffects and whatnot recalled the morning after.' History is a this-worldly thing, experienced by others precisely like ourselves, and therefore able to be discussed, at least in part, in terms that do not rise above the quotidian. Graham's tendency, in her first books, toward the exalted and the prophetic has been severely tempered, by the time she writes Region of Unlikeness, toward the material and the actual. Nonetheless, she remains determined not to let go of a principle of transcendent judgment, even in the presence of the unreliable and deniable chronicle we call history.

It is impossible that my exemplary poem from Region of Unlikeness should not be a poem called 'History' (the second of two so entitled in the volume). 'History' (89-93) is perhaps less formally inventive a poem than some others, those which begin to incorporate into Graham's previous resources (natural image and inner meditation) complex historical anecdotes of lived life - the attempted suicide of a student in 'The Phase after History'; the confinement of Graham's grandmother in a nursing home and the last moments of a young concentration-camp inmate in 'From the New World'. 'History' is important because it establishes the relation between the self and the necessitarian stopless wind of physical law - but the wind is now altered into the endless self-extension of history as a tethered beast chewing out the narratives that define it. The self, which seemed so fragile and unimportant under the cosmic wind, finds to its joy in 'History' that it is after all indispensable, and its indispensability resides In its capacity to define and register not only its own fate, but that of the world. This finding is dependent upon Graham's use of the Christian theological concept of kairos - the absolute moment of time at which it is necessary that something come to pass.

'History' presents, as it progresses, three foci. The first is a huge cloud of cacophonous black storks settling out of the sky and covering Graham's field of vision. These are messengers (versions of Graham's recurrent neutral angel of annunciation who heralds a new phase): 'This is newness? This is the messenger? Screeching. / Clucking.' The black storks unwrap the previously coherent fabric of the universe; and their dark settling, 'tripling the shadowload,' suggests the endless undoing of story by new story from Homer on:

Look up and something's unwrapping – 

Look up and it's suitors, applause,

It's fast-forward into the labyrinth.

The second focus of 'History' is a frozen river, concealing underneath its black ice-cover the beautiful transparency that used to reflect the human world. Her past, says the poet, is cast down with the rest of human history under that lid of ice:

Under the frozen river the other river flows

on its side in the dark

now that it cannot take into itself

the faces, the eyes - the gleam in them - the tossed-up hand

pointing then casting the pebble in.

Forget what we used to be, doubled, in the dark

age where half of us is cast

in and down, all the way,

into the silt,

roiled under,

saved in there with all the other slaughtered bits,

dark thick fabric of the underneath,

sinking, sifting.

The third focus of the poem, after the storks and the river, is Graham's surreal vision of history as an allegorical beast: 'Some part of it bleats, some part of it is/the front, has a face.’ The chained beast, history, gnaws audibly on its narrative bone, and the author wonders how she, or anyone, can be a part, a significant part, of that train of events we call 'history':


the x gnaws, making stories like small smacking


whole long stories which are its gentle gnawing....

If the x is on a chain, licking its bone,

making the sounds now of monks

copying the texts out,

muttering to themselves,

if it is on a chain

(the lights snapping on now all along the river)

if it is on a chain

that hisses as it moves with the moving x,

link by link with the turning x

(the gnawing now Europe burning)

(the delicate chewing where the atom splits),

if it is on a chain – 

even this beast - seven this the favorite beast – 

then this is the chain, the gleaming

chain: that what I wanted was to have looked up at the right


This unexpected description of history - with its gnawing being at one moment monks in a scriptorium, at another war in Europe, at still another atomic fission - reels out the past while keeping it in the participial present: the author feels the compulsion of the past without being able to let it be preterite, and feels the compulsion of the present without being able to let it be transient. This quandary is resolved by the notion of kairos: 'that what I wanted [imperfect] was to have looked up [perfect infinitive] at the right time' - a moment in history strictly limited, without the luxurious spread of the participial present, but also without the indifferent successivity of the past. As the poet herself (through her use of the past tense and the past indicative) becomes an element in a vanished history, she also sees a historical function for herself; she will have had significance if she succeeds in seeing and registering what she was bred to see, what nobody but herself could have seen: 

then this is the chain, the gleaming

chain: that what I wanted was to have looked up at the right


to see what I was meant to see,

to be pried up out of my immortal soul,

up, into the sizzling quick –

That what I wanted was to have looked up at the only

right time, the intended time,


the millisecond I was bred to look up into, click, no

half-tone, no orchard of


up into the eyes of my own

fate not the world's.

This prayer - to have confronted one's own fate at the intended time, and thereby to have made visible to others, through language, a moment of history - must remain for every artist a prayer and a hope, rather than a certainty. The artist must return to the enigmatic present of experience; and 'History' ends with the black storks, 'shadows of shadows,' settling on the nearby tree, where 'The bough still shakes.'

In returning to its first visual focus, its storks, 'History' resembles 'To the Reader,' which returned at its close to its girl with her weed and her notebook, her perpetual task of description. But 'History' has replaced a diligent voluntary task with an expectant vigil for the fated vision; the task of the artist is not patient digging in the earth, but remaining ready to look up at just the right millisecond. The material – history - is always around us in the world, but something more electric than exhaustive investigation now marks the relation of interpretation to matter; poetic interpretation has an element of the prophetic and the fated and the visionary about it. By speaking from beyond the tomb - 'What I wanted was to have looked up at the only right time' - the speaker liberates herself both from her participially continued past and her immobilism in the present, and can place herself into a new relation with matter as it is incarnated as historical event. Language about history is as contingent as the 'beast' and its linked stories, but if uttered at the 'right' time will partake, however socially and historically constructed, of the shape of that historical moment.

The 'posthumous' self-placement of 'History' generates questions about 'the phase after history' - a phrase used as the title of a poem in Region of Unlikeness, a poem which appropriates the Macbeths' murder of Duncan, and their failure to form another viable dynasty, in order to question how one is to know the right millisecond one was born to look up into. Macbeth, deceived into thinking he had to grasp a particular moment, is a figure for the wrong interpretation of one's own fate, and therefore of the fate of the world. As Lady Macbeth relives in her sleepwalking the crucial failure of their moment, she cannot see an alternative action or a future redress. The poem 'The Phase after History' ends in consternation and bewilderment: 

Where is America here from the landing, my face on

my knees, eyes closed to hear


Lady M. is the intermediary phase.

God help us.

Unsexed unmanned.

Her open hand like a verb slowly descending onto

the free,

her open hand fluttering all round her face now,

trying to still her gaze, to snag it on

those white hands waving and diving

in the water that is not there.

(Region of Unlikeness, 120-21)

Trying to find a personal 'phase after history' is futile; and the last poem in Region of Unlikeness, following 'The Phase after History,' is spoken by the soul, relinquishing, like Prospero, her creative power in favor of her visible relic, song, which itself, having entered the universe, becomes a form of matter:

(This is a form of matter of matter she sang)

(Where the hurry is stopped) (and held) (but not extinguished) (no)

(So listen, listen, this will soothe you) (if that is what you want)

Now then, I said, I go to meet that which I liken to

(even though the wave break and drown me in laughter)

the wave breaking, the wave drowning me in laughter -

(Region of Unlikeness, 125)

The impersonal gaiety of language replaces the drowning wave of death, and it turns out that no personal 'phase after history' is required. Region of Unlikeness closes as song, present in the world after the death of its maker, becomes a form of matter. By closing with the' past tense words 'I said' ('Now then, I said, I go ... '), yet with that past tense enclosing a quotation inscribing the participial instant of drowning, Graham avoids both the posthumous gaze of 'What I wanted was to have looked up' and the repetitive and futile gestures of Lady Macbeth after her failed moment of historical agency.

And now Graham has called her most recent collection by a title we might have anticipated: Materialism. It is far too soon for any of us to have assimilated all these new poems into our knowledge of Graham, but not too soon for me to close with one of them. First, though, I want to say a word about the format of Materialism. It contains twenty-three poems; and interspersed among the poems are long excerpts, mostly in prose, from significant authors of the Western tradition, ranging from Francis Bacon to Walter Benjamin, from Plato to Wittgenstein, from Leonardo da Vinci to Walt Whitman, from Jonathan Edwards to Brecht. All of these excerpts treat in some way the materiality of the world and the materiality of language, and Graham has included them, presumably, to trace the long effort of the Western world to come to terms with the fact of matter. Perhaps the most unexpected prose excerpt is an uncanonical one from McGuffey's New Fifth Reader, in which the materiality of language is minutely examined - sometimes for purposes of class distinction, sometimes for simple taxonomical ends, sometimes for rote questioning, but never for the purpose of aesthetic discrimination:

Is he sick, or is he well

Is he young, or is he old

Is he rich, or is he poor....

Do not say chile for child; feller for fellow:

fuss for first: kinely for kindly....

(Where is the rising inflection marked? What is the rule?)

(Materialism, 105-106)

The excerpts from Bacon's Novum Organum, on the other hand, show the new Renaissance moment of materialism exhibiting itself in a quasi-scholastic concentration on high-order discriminations among physical motions:

Let the first motion be that of the resistance of matter.... Let the

second motion be that which we term the motion of connection....

Let the third be that which we term the motion of liberty.... Let the

fourth be that which we term the motion of matter.... Let the fifth

be that which we term the motion of continuity.... Let the fourteenth

motion be that of configuration or position.... Let the fifteenth

motion be that of transmission or of passage.... Let the sixteenth be

that which we term the royal or political motion.... Let the eighteenth

motion be that of trepidation.... (Materialism)

In such a passage we see the fine distinctions of medieval theological discourse brought over, almost without change, into the realm· of matter, Against such scientific examinations of matter, Graham sets Whitman's hymn (from 'Crossing Brooklyn Ferry') to material phenomena:

Appearances, now or henceforth, indicate what you are:

Thrive. cities! bright your freight, being your shows, ample and

sufficient rivers:

Expand. being: keep your places objects.

We descend upon you and aU things - we arrest you aU:

We realize the soul only by you, you faithful solids and fluids: ...

You have waited. you always wait, you dumb, beautiful

ministers! ...

We use you. and do not cast you aside - we plant you permanently

within us:

We fathom you not - we love you.

(Materialism, xi)

By setting her own poems among other forms of discourse on the material world (even assembling one lyric which defines the self by haiku appropriated from Shoo. Issa, Buson, and Kyorai). Graham, like Wordsworth, asserts that all discourse, Western and Eastern, including poetry, exists as one of the forms of matter found waiting for us in the universe, and is as 'real' as other phenomena. Poems cannot, then, be sequestered as a form of the transcendent or the immaterial. Nonetheless, it is not easy to bring matter and thought together in the form of poetry. Twice in Materialism Graham poses her central question, adapting it to the poem at hand:

(how can the water rise up out of its grave of matter?) -

(how can the light drop down out of its grave of thought?) – 

('Event Horizon: 53)

How can the scream rise up out of its grave of matter?

How can the light drop down out of its grave of thought?

('Manifest Destiny: 100)

If, in Graham's present view, the only reality the self can find is a reality defined by primary material phenomena, the poet can no longer compose self-portraits through mythological personae, as Graham did in the dual portraits in The End of Beauty. The self must now portray itself in primary matter; and there are five poems in Materialism called 'Notes on the Reality of Self,' as though a conviction of the reality of the self could only be arrived at afresh through a new set of material phenomenal equivalents. Yet the indifference of the material universe to our fate makes us hesitate to appropriate its phenomena as adequate symbols of ourselves. Graham re-examines the adequacy of the pathetic fallacy in the third of her 'Notes on the Reality of the Self (10-11), which I will take as my exemplary poem from Materialism, In this and the other 'Notes,' Graham wishes to be fully faithful to the representation of phenomena, and to their ordinary material configurations, even as, through them, she defines the reality of the lyric self. As in the past, she chooses, in the third 'Notes,' several foci of attention. Here, the four foci are: first, the late afternoon light; second, the autumn wind (which we recall from 'Of Forced Sightes'); third, the reddish bushes in the speaker's yard which are agitated by, yet which also momentarily tame, that wind, and which are illuminated by that light; and fourth, the band which is practicing - with drums, trumpets, trombones, and French horns - in the nearby field.

The first configuration of the poem puts light, bushes, wind, and drumbeats together easily, unproblematically, as they all meet in the perceiving self of the speaker:

In my bushes facing the bandpractice field,

in the last light, surrounded by drumbeats. drumrolls,

there is a wind that tips the reddish leaves

exactly all one way, seizing them up from underneath, making them

barbarous in unison. Meanwhile the light insists they glow

where the wind churns.

Such a stable configuration is soon disturbed, and the light is re-imagined as a ladder of gold in the sky, in and out of which the limbs of the bushes roil. But language, always conscious of its own arbitrariness and insufficiency, begins its drawing of distinctions, and Graham asks, Is it the limbs - or the racks of limbs – or the luminosities of branchings - that roil? and do they do it always, or would a counter-description, one of stasis, be equally true at a different moment, the moment when the wind drops?

Meanwhile the light insists they glow

where the wind churns, or, no, there is a wide gold corridor

of thick insistent light, layered with golds, as if runged.

as if laid low from the edge of the sky,

in and out of which the coupling and uncoupling

limbs - the racks of limbs - the luminosities of branchings offspring

and more offspring - roil- (except when a sudden

stillness reveals

an appal of pure form. pure light -

every rim clear, every leaf serrated. tongued - stripped

of the gauzy quicknesses which seemed its flesh)-

It is no surprise that this brilliant passage, in its turn, requires correction: 'but then the instabilities/regroup.' The purely visual scene so far described is now yet further complicated by the full acoustic entrance of the drumroll and brassy music from the nearby field.

Up to this point, the poem seems not to justify its title ' - Notes on the Reality of the Self.' Where is the self in these struggles towards configuration made by light, wind, bushes, and drums? It is only in the second half of the poem, which turns from narration to question, that the darker underside of perception appears: The speaker, it is true, can easily encompass within herself light. wind, bushes, and drums: it is even true that as they change she can change kinesthetically with them. But if one removes lyric subjectivity, and thinks purely about these four material foci of the poem, impenetrability at once becomes the central problem. The bushes, to put it simply, cannot hear the drumbeats and the trumpets. The bushes can bend to the wind, it is true; but they do not bend to sonic waves. If one imagines human beings as matter, then one is struck by despair at one's own limitations; there are spectra one cannot see, there are sounds one cannot hear. We must be in some way very like those bushes, which are impermeable to the torrent of sound pouring around them: and we are also like the drumbeats, forever beating in vain at an unhearing material world. In the despair of the mutually uncomprehending bushes and drumbeats. we see the despair of the self as matter, with its perceptual receptivity so far from being infinite, its expressivity in language so far from being universally receivable:

Tell me, where are the drumbeats which fully load and expand

each second,

bloating it up, cell-like, making it real, where are they

to go, what will they fill up

pouring forth, pouring round the subaqueous magenta bushes

which dagger the wind back down on itself.

tenderly, prudently. almost loaded down

with regret? For there is not a sound the bushes will take

from the multitude beyond them, in the field, uniformed (

all left now on one heel) (right) (all fifty trumpets up

to the sun) - not a molecule of sound

from the tactics of this glistening beast,

forelimbs of silver (trombones, french horns)

(anointed by the day itself) expanding. retracting,

bits of red from the surrounding follage deep

in all the fulgid

instruments - orient - ablaze where the sound is released

trumpeting, unfolding -

screeching, rolling, patterning, measuring scintillant

beast the bushes do not know exists.

To this blazing explosion of the monstrous collective band – splendidly imagined and rendered - the bushes are forever deaf and blind. This is a damning admission for the perceptual self, itself matter-as-bush, to make; and a disheartening admission for the expressive self, itself matter-as-collective-music, to acquiesce in.

The bushes are not only deaf and blind, they are powerless. As we last see them, the light has gone and they are left in the power of 'a wind that does not really even now exist,' 

in which these knobby reddish limbs that do not sway 

by so much as an inch 

its arctic course

themselves now sway -

By submitting herself as chameleon-identity to bush and drumroll, themselves acted on by wind and light (those almost immaterial things), Graham has explored not only the limitations of any conceivable material self, but also the poetic expression possible to a self conceiving itself as matter. Although such a self can begin equably enough in sense-perception, it cannot assert the sort of mastery over experience that the teleological self was wont to display - choosing to stay the fair moment for inspection, admitting no other petitioner to its attention. The instabilities of matter must now be assumed by the self; and so any poem spoken in the voice of the material self must be an unstable poem, constantly engaged in linguistic processes of approximation. The material self is limited, and must enact that limitation (here, through two different material personae, the bushes and the band). And the material self is ultimately powerless over fate, and cannot wrench fate to a satisfying eschatological closure: the unswayable arctic wind, the swaying bushes, engage in a stand-off with each other, with fate the ultimate master.

The real power latent in the idea of the poetic self conceived as matter emerges in Graham's intense and lavish transcriptions of the material world, in which all her formidable energies of description and kinesis are engaged.-Graham's attempt to describe the material world with only minimal resort to the usual conceptual and philosophical resources of lyric (once so dear to her), and to make that description a vehicle for her personal struggle into comprehension and expression, is harder even than it would seem. In Materialism, Graham is willing to blend all her abundant talent to the description of something as evanescent as a beam of sun infiltrating a room and passing over a spectator ('Subjectivity', part 2, 26-29), or to the gradual opening of an amaryllis bud ('Opulence,' 134-35). There is a great deal more that could be said about this recent book, with its valiant resolve to remain, linguistically speaking, on the material plane. It bravely closes with the old classical pun on vegetal leaves and the leaves of a book; Graham's leaves are carried on the surface by the current of the river, carried away in time even from their mortal author:

The river still ribboning, twisting up,

into its re-

arrangements, chill enlightenments. tight-knotted


and loosenings - whispered messages dissolving

the messengers -

the river still glinting-up into its handfuls, heapings,


forgettings under the river of

my attention - ...

and the surface rippling over the wind's attention – 

rippling over the accumulations, the slowed-down drifting


of the cold


I say iridescent and I look down.

The leaves very still as they are carried.

('The Surface,' 143)

In these knottings and loosenings, slowings and quickenings, ending in, stopping on, a word, Graham finds the only linguistic and imaginative equivalents for the self as she now understands it. Because the phenomena of perception are for the trilingual poet detached from anyone language of embodiment, they exist finally as metaphysical notions, transiently embodied but never finally capturable in form. It is odd, but logical, that a given so generous as three available languages should result, as it does, in a made art more diaphanous, more restless, and more metaphysical than any other contemporary American poetic construct.


 'I Was Taught Three: in Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 4.

 'Who Watches from the Dark Porch' in Region of Unlikeness (New York: Ecco Press, 1991), 97.

 Dedicatory page, unnumbered.

 Graham's imagination will dwell once again on the Last Judgment (in Michelangelo's version) in the poem 'Chaos' (Region of Unlikeness, 46-53); there, the emphasis Is on judgment rather than on the rejoining of soul and body.

 This description may unconsciously owe something to the beast 'sophistication' described (in a quotation from the Greek Anthology) in Marianne Moore's poem, 'In the Days of Prismatic Color':

'Part of it was crawling, part of it

was about to crawl, the rest

was torpid in its lair.'

(Marianne Moore, Complete Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1981; London: Faber and Faber, 1984), 41.)

 The end of 'Soul Says' also contains an unconscious reminiscence, I believe, of the end of Moore's 'In the Days of Prismatic Color':

Truth Is no Apollo

Belvedere, no formal thing. The wave may go over it if it likes.

Know that It will be there when it says,

'I shall be there when the wave has gone by.'

(Moore, Complete Poems, 42)