Monday, June 30, 2008

Thought for the Day

it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it

—Frank O'Hara, from "Having a Coke with You"

Sunday, June 29, 2008

An Alternate Take

Frank O'Hara was the Coleridge of his day. At his funeral in 1966, the painter Larry Rivers said that the poet had been his best friend, and added that there must be sixty people in New York alone who, that very morning, were making the same claim. It was not only that he had been a best friend, he'd been a world-making friend. For O'Hara, the word alone carried such an active charge that it had easily generated in him enough energy to light up a dozen movements. With his death, "countless poets, artists, novelists, composers, and musicians were left reeling as they tried in vain to make sense of the loss of a figure who was so central to ...[their] own overlapping communities."

O'Hara's romance with friendship was openly linked to the key idea of collaboration. What Coleridge and Wordsworth had marveled over for a few months in their long lives became for O'Hara and his friends an article of faith that, in theory, went the nineteenth-century Romantics one better. At the time, Paul Goodman was arguing that the avant-garde artist builds a community of interests influential to both art and society by writing for, with, and about his friends. The New York poets all responded eagerly to the suggestion, but none more than O'Hara, whose credo became, We will write together, about ourselves and one another, each of us egging the others on to shine, thereby making a difference in the culture at the same time that we draw the very best from ourselves. If the mood of the fifties Manhattan poetry scene was imbued with the over-excited prospect of doing collaborative work, it was almost entirely due to the hungry ardor of O'Hara himself, for whom collaboration represented the promise of artistic fulfillment. At the heart of the excitement lay the hope that, paradoxically, collaboration would perform a transformative act: The more deeply I submerge myself into our common effort, the more brilliantly will I become my own true self.

-Vivian Gornick, "The Soul Grown Unrefined," reviewing three books about poetic friendship, including Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry by Andrew Epstein (Oxford University Press, 2006), in POETRY, July/August, 2008, pp. 402-403.

Not Again, Billy

William Logan scrapes bottom once again in his review of Frank O'Hara's Selected Poems, which makes the cover of this morning's New York Times Book Review.* Logan begins:

"Death is often a good a career move in poetry. No sooner are the obsequies over and the baked meats eaten than the publisher warms up the presses for a definitive edition of the collected poems, solemnly proofread down to the last querulous comma. Yet not all poets are well served by such an exhaustive volume, which may seal up a reputation forever––indeed, such a book has often been called a tombstone. A collected poems may be cruelest to a poet whose genius shone as intermittently as a firefly."**

Logan, of course, did not write this as a "grabber opening" for a tenth grade composition exercise. The lightning bug Logan is swatting at is O'Hara himself, a fact Logan makes clear in the next paragraph: "As a poet, [O'Hara] wrote so much––so wildly and unevenly much––it has been a bit difficult to reach a just estimate of his wayward, influential talent."

The review then proceeds through two full pages of backhanded swipes at its subject (assuming that Logan plays tennis, one would do well to always serve directly at his inflated head--his only stroke is a backhand).

For example:

"The poets of the New York School...were long on spontaneity and short on literary effect."

"[O'Hara] was always looking for some vivid stimulus, preferably one a little outlandish––not a bad thing for a curator of modern painting, perhaps, but not necessarily a good one for a poet (O'Hara treated contemporary art with far more deliberation than he treated poetry). He began to make poetry from whatever happened around him––today he might have written a blog."

"O'Hara's physical world is curiously impoverished."

"What O'Hara objected to most about poetry was the hard work."

"O'Hara wanted his poems to look easy as a sewing machine but to take no work at all."

"...but O'Hara almost never faces up to the emptiness beneath this high life and low desire––if there is a subconscious revealed, it's very hard to detect."

"O'Hara refused to apologize for his narcissism, his comic pretensions, his sometimes insufferable archness. These were the efffects he mastered and the price paid."

"O'Hara's wonderful poems are all too easily drowned out by the vivifying mediocrity of the rest. At times the banalities pile up and overwhelm the poems––but then, they were the poems. "

"...[O'Hara's] very notion of the aesthetic courted failure as a method...When O'Hara was lucky, he was very lucky, because his method could not help but fail most of the time."

O'Hara's manner in his longer poems became " irritating when sustained."

His poems are "blissfully trivial."

And finally, O'Hara's "virtues" were his poems' "false bravado, their frantic posturing and guilelessness and petty snobberies."

With the exception of "guilelessness," these last are qualities that William Logan knows much about.

To paraphrase Dorothy Parker: Constant Reader, this blogger frowed up.


*"Urban Poet" by William Logan, The New York Times Book Review, Sunday, June 29, 2008, a Review of Selected Poems By Frank O'Hara. Edited by Mark Ford. 265 pp. Alfred A. Knopf, $30.

**The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara, edited by Donald Allen with an introduction by John Ashbery, (University of California Press, 1995) is still widely available for $27.50, not including an Amazon discount which brings the price down to $18.50. The existence of this volume (which won the National Book Award for Poetry) is not even mentioned by Logan. Allen's Selected Poems of Frank O'Hara (Vintage, 1974) is a bit more difficult to find.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Why I Must Mow the Lawn Today

The cartoonist Winsor McKay was born and grew up in Spring Lake. He has the size and skill-set of our local mosquitoes just about right in this (silent) 1912 animation.

I need to mow the grass today and grind up a few of the mosquitoes. Because of all the rain we've had, they're horribly thick right now.

David Wroblewski's "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle"

On Wednesday night, Marcia and I had a rare chance to go out to dinner, without the boys. Afterwards, we stopped by Mega-Lo Books and Marcia asked whether I knew David Wroblewski--she was holding a copy of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel (ECCO, 2008) in her hand.

David Wroblewski?

Heck yes, I know David Wroblewski! Our time at Warren Wilson overlapped in the very-late '90's. Anyway, it turns out that The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is the hot read this summer. Yesterday, David was even featured on the second hour of NPR's Diane Rehm Show. So a big congratulations to David-- a great writer and one of the really nice guys.

We bought the book, of course, and I am very much looking forward to reading it.

Here's a description from the book's publisher:

A riveting family saga, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle explores the deep and ancient alliance between humans and dogs, and the power of fate through one boy’s epic journey into the wild.

Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents on their farm in remote northern Wisconsin. For generations, the Sawtelles have raised and trained a fictional breed of dog whose thoughtful companionship is epitomized by Almondine, Edgar's lifelong companion. But with the unexpected return of Claude, Edgar's uncle, turmoil consumes the Sawtelle's once-peaceful home. When Edgar's father dies suddenly, Claude insinuates himself into the life of the farm – and into Edgar's mother’s affections.

Grief-stricken and bewildered, Edgar tries to prove Claude played a role in his father's death, but his plan backfires, spectacularly. Edgar flees into the vast wilderness lying beyond the farm. He comes of age in the wild, fighting for his survival and that of the three yearling dogs who follow him. But his need to face his father’s murderer, and his devotion to the Sawtelle dogs, turn Edgar ever homeward.

Wroblewski is a master storyteller, and his breathtaking scenes – the elemental north woods, the sweep of seasons, an iconic American barn, a ghost made of falling rain – create a family saga that is at once a brilliantly inventive retelling of Hamlet, an exploration of the limits of language, and a compulsively readable modern classic.


That's David Wroblewski, above. He has a cool head.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Two Sun Gems on a Branch (1864)

This is what I hope to work on this weekend--something about this painting by Martin Johnson Heade.

Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., the leading authority on Heade, wrote: "In his journal, [Heade] noted, 'This rather rare bird was discovered by Prince Maximilian in the interior of Brasil. Very little is known of its habits, & no well authenticated specimen of its nest has yet been found. The female of the bird is the largest, & the tail is longer and has broader feathers than that of the male. Saw but two in Brasil.'"

-Theodore Stebbins, Jr., Martin Johnson Heade, Yale University Press (1999), p. 76.

Last Call


I think that one is okay.

Every once in a while, I find it useful to prove to myself that I can write a poem that is not about hummingbirds.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cows, Redux


I think I have it. I am down to switching out the order of words, etc. A happy enough place to be in the revision process.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Draft of a New Poem (Re-drafted)



This is something I am working on. The cows did not cooperate this morning when I took their picture--they hid in the back of the field, near the shed.

A Moment with Jack Gilbert


How do you know when you've finished [a poem]?


If I am writing well it comes to an end with an almost audible click. When I started out I wouldn't write a poem until I knew the first line and the last line and what it was about and what would make it a success. I was a tyrant and I was good at it. But the most important day in my career as a writer was when Linda [Gregg] said, Did you ever think of listening to your poems? And my poetry changed. I didn't give up making precreated poetry, but you have to write a poem the way you ride a horse––you have to know what to do with it. You have to be in charge of a horse or it will eat all day––you'll never get back to the barn. But if you tell the horse how to be a horse, if you force it, the horse will probably break a leg. The horse and rider have to be together.

-The Paris Review, No. 175, The Art of Poetry: Interview with Jack Gilbert, p. 59

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Favorite Song

We went to the fireworks on Saturday night, and though I am ten days or-so ahead of myself, I love this song.

Progress Notes

I spent the morning reorganizing a chapbook-sized manuscript I've been working on. If the larger manuscript won't do, perhaps the chapbook will.


"Nothing is going to happen in this book. There is only a little violence here and there in the language, at the corner where eternity clips time."

-Annie Dillard

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thought for the Day

The best argument for eloquence is that it is a skill and therefore an imperative. If you think you are good at something, you do it, even at the cost of wasting your life in its service. A writer who, on a particular day of need, can't find the words is appalled and terrified that he'll never find them again.


If the question of egotism is raised, you can answer that the words you want to find for yourself are in the language anyhow, even if they're hiding, so it's only decent to bring their beauties out; it's like doing the best you can for your country. Like hang-gliding again: practicing a skill, you'll feel like a bird, wings outspread, capitalizing on the constraints that commonly weigh you down. The constraints--or the sins--are in language, so you exercise your talent for finding ways to circumvent them, ways of being free, or enjoying the exhilaration of feeling free.

-Denis Donoghue, On Eloquence, Yale University Press (2008), pp. 168 and 169.

The Telephone is Ringing...

Hannah phoned in today from the Gulu District of Uganda, where she is staying with workers from Caritas, a Catholic relief agency.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Note On Frank Bidart

The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (Princeton University Press, 1993) defines parallelism as “The repetition of identical or similar syntactic patterns in adjacent phrases, clauses, or sentences; the matching patterns are usually doubled, but more extensive iteration is not rare. The core of a parallelism is syntactic; when syntactic frames are set in equivalence by parallelism, the elements filling those frames are brought into alignment as well, especially on the lexical level (thus the term 'semantic parallelism.')"

The poet wanting to see the principle at work would do well to buy a copy of Frank Bidart’s Watching the Spring Festival (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008) in which many of the poems rely upon parallel constructions.

In “The Old Man at the Wheel,” for example, Bidart writes:

Measured against the immeasurable
universe, no word you have spoken

brought light. Brought
light to what, as a child, you thought

too dark to be survived. By exorcism
you survived. By submission, then making.

You let all the parts of that thing you would
cut out of you enter your poem because

enacting there all its parts allowed you
the illusion you could cut it from your soul.

Dilemmas of choice given what cannot
change alone roused you to words.

As you grip the things that were young when
you were young, they crumble in your hand.

Now you must drive west, which in November
means driving directly into the sun.

When reading this collection, Bidart’s use of parallelism comes as a discovery and (because of its frequency--this book is replete with parallelisms!) ends as a slight annoyance--almost a literary tic.

Words I Could Live Without

I cringe when I hear certain words--and because of where I live and the work I do, I cringe far too often.

For example:

Ministry. Half the people who hang out in any coffee shop in Western Michigan are there because they have a "ministry," which consists of (i) talking to each other (too loudly) about how their church's $5 million building expansion and audio-visual technology initiative will improve the church's "ministry" and (ii) explaining to you why you should join their church and help support its "exciting new ministry"--a $5 million building expansion and audio-visual technology initiative.

I think that only ordained ministers should have ministries. Everyone else should quietly sip their de-caf double mocha lattes, say their prayers, and do their best to live good lives.

And give the $5 million to the poor.

Stakeholder. In the world of social services, "stakeholders" are periodically given an opportunity for "input" on the "strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats" posed to the existing social services programs. Everyone, of course, is a "stakeholder." On any particular issue, your steak may be filet mignon and mine might be Salisbury, but we are both "stakeholders," so we must have an opportunity for "input," which must be grouped, reported, analyzed and arrayed across many multi-colored pie charts.

In every statistical report from "stakeholders," there must be several "compelling narratives."

I have no problem with strategic planning and am a sucker for a good story, but "stakeholder" is a word that should not be used outside of the cast list of a vampire movie.

Folks. In written reports, people are "clients" and "consumers,"* but when the report turns oral or someone asks a difficult question, people quickly become "these folks" and "those folks." "Folks" is a very strange word and, in this context, an odd usage--mixing condescension, familiarity, an "aw, shucks" populism, and the word's Germanic origins ("volks"--which means "people," but which also had a near mystical connotation in Nazi propaganda) into a totemic noun--an entity which has an undifferentiated face, a beehive's intellect, and a common--if sometimes, inscrutable--will. "These folks" are an entity which must be simultaneously admired, ignored, and served. Too often, any particular member of "those folks" is portrayed as "the Other"--a problem; a non-person to be denied services, punished, or avoided.

What are the words you hear (or read) too often and could live without?


*And of course, "stakeholders."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thought for the Day

I say that theology and poetry may be said to be almost one thing when the subject is the same. I say further that theology is nothing else than a piece of God's poetry. What other thing is it than poetic fiction in Scripture when Christ says that He is now a lion, and now a lamb, and now a serpent, and then a dragon, and then a rock, and when He speaks in many other ways, to recount all of which would be tedious? What else do the words of the Saviour in the gospels contain if not a meaning different from the plain sense, a way of speaking which we call by the common term allegory? It then clearly appears not only that poetry is theology, but that theology is poetry. Even if my own words deserve little faith in so great a matter I shall not be disturbed. Believe Aristotle, rather, a most worthy authority for matters of weight, who affirms that he has found that poets are the first theologians. Let this be enough on this subject, and let us turn to showing why to poets alone, among all [persons] of knowledge, the honor of the laurel crown has been granted.

-Giovanni Boccaccio, Life of Dante (Hesperus Press, 2002), p. 52-53

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I received an acceptance from my favorite new journal, The Barn Owl Review!

What a great end to the day!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Something I'm Working On


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Summer Submissions

Well, my poems are out there working for me.

Fly, my monkeys, fly.

First time I've submitted online.

A Poem from the Bellingham Review

This is a poem of mine that appears in the current (Spring, 2008) issue of the Bellingham Review.


-The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Book X,
Lines 86-110

When love died the second time,
he sang at dawn in the empty field
and the trees came to listen.
A little song for the tag alder,
the fire cherry, the withe-willow.
The simple-hearted ones that come quickly
to loneliness.
Then he sang for the mulberry
with its purple fruit,
for the cedar and the tamarack.
He sang bel canto for the quaking aspen
and the stave oak;
something lovely for the white pine,
the fever tree, the black ash.
From the air he called the sparrows
and the varieties of wrens.
Then he sang for a bit of pestilence––
for the green caterpillars,
for the leaf worms and bark beetles.
Food to suit the flickers and the crows.
So that, in the wood lot,
there would always be empty places.
So he would still know loss.

-Greg Rappleye

Friday, June 13, 2008

"Chevy in the Hole"

Read all about it, here.

Tim Russert (1950-2008)

This is shocking; and very sad.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Back to Poetry

Having said what I had to say, it's time to get back to writing poetry. I do not usually submit anywhere in the summer, but have a group of poems I want to send off to a journal before the end of the week.

My thanks to all who responded in some way to my earlier post, either here or elsewhere.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Last Comment About Blogrolls (Who is, and Who is Not, On Them)

I made a comment about 10th grade attitudes and "exclusive" blogrolls in response to a recent post on C. Dale Young's blog. I thought my comment might prompt further discussion. It did not. No matter; I still have a couple more things to say about the subject.

Given that I am considered an infinitely minor poet, I don't expect to be allowed to hang out with the football team.*

However, if one spends a few semesters quietly setting up projectors and lugging around extension cords, one should at least be permitted to pose for the yearbook with the Audio Visual Helpers Club.

It isn't a matter of claiming someone is your "friend." Or (as a poet) worrying that someone not "cool enough" may claim--in a moment of exuberence or wishful-thinking-- that you are their "friend." Please. In my view, it's about building a sense of community, giving people who are (in my experience) working against great odds for little reward to make something lasting and beautiful, a sense that someone out there understands and appreciates the effort, however "successful" (by the poetry world's standards), one is or is not.

Life is just to short, and the real world too cruel, to act otherwise.


*Or the cheerleaders, for that matter.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Draft of a New Poem

When not watching the weather, this had all my attention this weekend. I'll leave it up for a few hours, then make it go "poof"!

I have a busy day today: an emergency weather meeting at 7:15 this morning (you see, my interest in rain and storms is not entirely casual) then I have to be back in town for court at 8:30.

This is one for which a chromolithograph survives.

Here is the chromolithograph.


Sunday, June 08, 2008


This will be round 4, here about 10:30 P.M., I'd guess.

Storm Report

We've had three deaths in Ottawa County caused by the storms; two by falling trees (including one in Spring Lake) and a drowning in Robinson Township. Here are a few additional photographs taken in our yard, which now looks like duck habitat.

I understand that high water is much worse in the southern part of the County.

There is another line of thunderstorms forming in Wisconsin which should be here overnight.

More Storms

The Radar.

The webcam on Muskegon Lake.

Thought for the Day

We must have the courage, as Kierkegaard said, to think a thought whole.

-Theodore Roethke

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Born to Laugh at Tornadoes

A lot of rain, a lot of lightning.

Not much more.

Never mind.

Run, Toto! Run!

Because of all the lightning, I am going to go off-line here for a bit.

See you after the relocation is completed.

Tornado Watch

There is quite a bit of lightning in the distance and the sky is becoming "Tornado Over Kansas" green.

"Tornado Over Kansas" (1929) by John Steuart Curry. This is in the collection of the Muskegon Museum of Art.

Big Storm!

Of course, there is a downside to humid, 85 degree days.

Huge evening thunderstorms.

We have a tornado watch until midnight.

The view from Muskegon Lake.

Grand Haven Pier looking south, away from the storm.

I can't believe there is a boat heading out, unless it's the Coast Guard or the Marine Patrol.

New Poem

I am working on a new poem. I must say, it is easier to write poems set in Brazil when the weather in Michigan is a humid 85 degrees.

I am glad that it is summer.


The painting is "Sunset: A Scene in Brazil" (1864-1865) by Martin Johnson Heade.

Friday, June 06, 2008

From Alan Shapiro's "Old War"

I am reading Alan Shapiro's Old War (Houghton Mifflin, 2008). I met Shapiro at Bread Loaf in the summer of 2002, and very much liked him. That was just before this book begins, according to its publisher, who writes, "In October 2002, at the age of fifty, Alan Shapiro collapsed while playing basketball. A few months later, on the eve of America's invasion of Iraq, he remarried... The poems in Old War, Shapiro's ninth and most innovative collection, were written under the double aspect of love and fear, of hope that comes with any fresh start and the sense that history will eventually undo or destroy whatever we struggle to make."

Old War is a powerful collection of poems, a worthy successor (and companion) to Shapiro's Tantalus in Love (Houghton Mifflin, 2005). I am particularly taken with how Shapiro varies his lineation throughout this book; at times working with a longer line, at other times shattering the line to poignant effect as he considers love, loss, violence and human frailty.

Here's a poem from Shapiro's Old War in which that broken lineation is very much at work:

after Sappho

As an apple hangs

in a fragment of

a sentence in

an ancient poem

in the book

you've made me

turn face down

on the bedside table,

your blouse now half

unbuttoned as

the apple reddens

in the broken

simile the second

half of which

was lost how many

centuries ago;

as the apple shines

more brightly for the lost

lines in the top-

most branches, missed

by the pickers, or

too high for them

to reach,


unfalling, trembling

forever on

the trembling branch

beyond the out-

stretched fingers

while you shiver

slightly as the blouse

falls, first this sleeve,

then the other,

from your shoulders.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Progress Notes

I have two new poems--significant pieces of my project--I can roll out tomorrow for my writers' group. Also two revisions I am happy with. I have another, a lyric piece, I am working on. After a slow two months, I am the writer in Annie Dillard's dream, whose typewriter suddenly explodes, like the caldera of an old volcano.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Red Wings Win The Stanley Cup!

Go Wings!

Red Wings beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 in Pittsburgh to win the Stanley Cup!

Oh yes, it is ours!

Frederick Walter Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby and Lord Stanley of Victoria.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

On Jane Shore's "A Yes-0r-No Answer"

I have been reading A Yes-or-No Answer: Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), Jane Shore's new collection. Shore (who teaches at George Washington University) is described on her book jacket as "a chronicler of family life," and she is that indeed, but she is also one of our most important, most compellingly readable poets. I was particularly stunned by the three poems in this collection ("Possession," "Keys," and "Fugue") which concern the death of the poet Reetika Vazirani, who killed herself and her son on July 18, 2003, while temporarily staying at Shore's home in Washington, D.C.*

Here is the title poem to Jane Shore's brilliant new collection.

A Yes-or-No Answer

Have you read The Story of O?
Will Buffalo sink under all that snow?
Do you double-dip your Oreo?
Please answer the question yes or no.

The surgery—was it touch-and-go?
Does a corpse’s hair continue to grow?
Remember when we were simpatico?
Answer my question: yes or no.

Do you want another cup of joe?
If I touch you, is it apropos?
Are you certain that you’re hetero?
Is your answer yes or no?

Did you lie to me, like Pinocchio?
Was forbidden fruit the cause of woe?
Did you ever sleep with that so-and-so?
Just answer the question: yes or no.

Did you nail her under the mistletoe?
Will you spare me the details, blow by blow?
Did she sing sweeter than a vireo?
I need an answer. Yes or no?

Are we still a dog-and-pony show?
Shall we change partners and do-si-do?
Are you planning on the old heave-ho?
Check an answer: Yes [] No [].

Was something blue in my trousseau?
Do you take this man, this woman? Oh,
but that was very long ago.
Did we say yes? Did we say no?

For better or for worse? Ergo,
shall we play it over, in slow mo?
Do you love me? Do you know?
Maybe yes. Maybe no.

*NOTE: Or rather, these are the three poems which seem to deal with this topic. Shore does not reference Vazirani by name and is circumspect with details.

Monday, June 02, 2008

On Jorie Graham

There is an interesting review by Helen Vendler in the New York Review of Books of Jorie Graham's Sea Change (ECCO /HarperCollins, 2008).* Vendler writes:

"To some readers Graham has seemed difficult, diffuse, oblique, unnervingly changeable. It is true that one does not walk easily into her poems, since they are not, in the usual sense, openly confessional, political, or ideological. They have of course revealed aspects of her life (as child, daughter, lover, wife, mother) as well as places she has lived (Italy, France, the United States), but they take the form of montage rather than sequential narrative. And although Graham has confronted current issues (from perpetually alert B-52s to homelessness to colonialism) that distress a large number of Americans, a poem raising one of these issues, far from being predictable, is likely to include not only introspection but also myth (classical and religious) and historical instances of repellent or thrilling human action (from Inca sacrifice to Greek games at Delphi). Graham is an intellectual poet writing in a society hostile to intellectuality; her range of reference and liberty of expression have sometimes baffled reviewers."

She continues:

"The reader is delighted, in Graham's mobile lines of flashes and sparks, by recognizing in them the stratified intensity of poems-in-process, illustrating the 'innumerable compositions and decompositions' described by Keats."

My sense of Graham is somewhat different. As a poet, she relies almost entirely upon her thought processes, arrayed across a long line that Graham herself refers to as "visionary." What she has turned away from is the constructed poetic image. Although a wide range of historical and intellectual referents are contained within her poems, there is nothing cinematic about her work. Few scenes are ever developed, character is largely absent, Graham seldom enters--or attempts to enter--the mind of another. One rarely feels located in time, place, or scene and the only "person" one finds in her poetry is the mind--lately, not even the physical body--of Jorie Graham. The larger problem with this is not Graham's erudition (seriously, Jorie; keep talking--we'll all try to keep up with you), it is that Graham's intellect has developed--or always had--a hushed, humorless reverence for itself as oracle, and not much genuine empathy for those laboring beyond her own synapses.

The ability to mediate depends, at some level, upon the willingness to engage. How effective, how compelling, how necessary is an oracle who lacks genuine engagement with the human world--with the poor sots who make their burnt offerings and look to the oracle for wisdom and advice?

With that said, I continue to find myself interested in some of the formal aspects of Sea Change--for example, how Graham makes the longer line work in her poetry.


"A Powerful Strong Torrent" by Helen Vendler, The New York Review of Books (June 12, 2008) pp. 64-67.