Jorie Graham begin The Errancy with some of my favorite contemporary poetry lines:
Shall I move the flowers again?
Shall I put them further to the left
into the light?
Will that fix it, will that arrange the
Of all the poets I have read, I think Graham has been the one who has influenced my work the most. For me, Graham was love at first sight -- or rather love at first hearing. She read a a small church at Harvard with Ashbery and one other famous artist/poet whose name escapes me. The reading was so packed that about 100 people where turned away. However, they broadcast the reading live into Harvard Yard. Anyone who has heard Graham's voice is aware of the sulty sexiness of it. I was addicted. I immediately ran to the bookstore (which was open until 11 PM) and bought Dream of the Unified Field. Ahhh, what bliss.
What attracts me to Graham so much is so hard to explain. First, I feel like I might have to defend my passion. I rarely hear any one of my contemporaries mention Graham. My feeling is that it is probably unpopualr to like her. First, there is the entire scandel of her picking one of her students for a book prize and the backlash against her because of it. (As if that has never happened with any other poets before!) Then, there is the thing of Graham being a poet perpetually blessed with luck: education in Europe, marriage into the Graham family, books from Ecco, and jobs at Iowa and Harvard (just to name a few). I would argue, however, that when I think of poets that have maintained this attention in America (Pinsky, Garrison, Kooser, and so on) Graham certainly deserves where she has gotten. I mean, she CAN write!
What attracts me to Graham's work is how it moves easily between the obscured and clear. It does have a narrative, but, unlike Kooser's work that I read today, the narrative isn't easily apparent. The reader has to work at these poems, she has to swim through them.