The last lines of the last poem in Jorie Graham’s most recent collection, FAST, imagine dawn giving way to day: “Leaving / grackle and crow in the sun – they have / known what to find in the unmade / undrawn unseen unmarked and / dragged it into here – that it be / visible” – which is as good a way as any of summing up what Graham has tried to do ever since she began writing poems: to look hard at the world around her, especially the natural world, but also at the hard questions – what does it all mean and what is it all for? To stay as open as possible in order to catch whatever answer there might be unawares, and hold it up to the light.
Nothing is out of bounds – geese, laundry, erosion, materialism, psychiatric wards, sex, Plato (she is not a fan), Heidegger, bots, relativity, the Holocaust, Genesis, classical mythology, Genesis, “the moral pleasure / of experiencing the distance between subject and object”, water (always water). Now, in FAST, her subject is mortality – her own (she was diagnosed with cancer five years ago), her parents’, that of intellect and culture (in dementia, in digital overwhelm), that of the planet. It is a collection of sensual poems so urgent that, by the end, they have abandoned traditional beginnings and are physically bunched up on the right-hand side of the page. And through it all, an unwavering, serious belief in the power of poetry, a repeatedly inhabited rejection of Auden’s assertion that poetry makes nothing happen.
With poems, you can say: it’s fine to feel this way and that about an event – rage and curiosity, respect and horror
I was privileged, in those historic moments, to witness, up close, a few rare souls act with truly astonishing bravery
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