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The Spirit of Romanticism.....
Jan 04, 2005 12:13 PM 4566 Views
(Updated Jan 04, 2005 12:13 PM)

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Perhaps the most common indictment made about any of Graham's works is that they are too philosophical and complex--so complex that they distance themselves from the common reader (''reader,'' these days, meaning someone who expects to understand a poem on the first or second reading).


But it would be a great blunder to dismiss her poetry simply because of its complex nature. To me, Graham is a Romantic, in every sense of the word: she writes about everyday experiences (as Wordsworth insisted upon), but then allows these experiences to ''move'' down the page in an unmistakibly fluid-like fashion. By allowing these experiences to transcend their just being ''experiences,'' Graham allows room for more important, more intellectual, themes to be raised. And while doing this, she maintains firm control over the emotional energies of her poems (and over language itself).


When reading one of Graham's more complex pieces (such as those from ''Materialism'' & ''The End of Beaty''), one shouldn't be tricked into thinking that two or three readings alone will provide a clear understanding of the text. Graham forces the reader to read the poems aloud, and to make connections between stanzas and lines (even words) that might otherwise seem disoriented or abstract.


Jorie Graham is a poet who is not afraid to tackle big ideas and themes. One of the most disconcerting trends in poems I've read in literary magazines these days is this shying away from intellectualism. So many poems are ''look what many epiphanies I can unearth just from my small private world.'' If you have a violent reaction against these kinds of poems, Jorie Graham's poetry is that antidote you have been searching.


She is not afraid to tackle big themes, metaphysical and epistemological. She doesn't hide the fact that she has a sharp, fiercely intelligent mind. But it's not just mere verbal pyrotechnics. She lets her knowledge surface through everyday events observed through her keen eyes, filtered through her sensations. In ''Reading Plato'', for example, her vision of the platonic community becomes summoned magically, and almost improbably through the sight of men in early morning... fishing at the lake, casting bait into the water, and the horse hair that's attached to it. In other poems, she relates a spiritual surge of St. Theresa to a breakdancer dancing on the street, electricity that seems to run through the dancers bones and limbs.


These and many others are startling observations which lead not to easy, pat conclusions and denouements, but to further philosophical inquiries. No other poet I've read recently has drawn out so much from such minute, exacting observations. A work of a genius.


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