Place: New Poems by Jorie Graham

Place: New Poems by Jorie Graham, who is a Pulitzer Prize winner (1996), is a collection of poems in five parts that is about not just physical places, but also the place points in our pasts and the places in our soul that can define who we are.  Her poetry is clean, clipped, and infused with nature and human perception, espousing the benefits and limitations of humanity.

In part one, the narration talks of places in the moment and in the past and how they change over time based on the perception of the future self.  There is a mother and child, an unspoiled relationship and unspoiled being hovering on the “railing” and in the moment.  Bask in today, the feeling and the being — each poem seems to say.

From "Cagnes Sur Mer 1950" (page 6-8)

How the archway and the voice and the shadow
seize the small triangle of my soul
violently, as in a silent film where the accompaniment
becomes a mad body
for the spirit's skipping images -- abandoned homeland -- miracle from which
we come back out alive.  So here from there again I, 
read it off the book of time, 
my only time, as if in there is a fatal mistake of which
I cannot find the nature -- or shape -- or origin --
From "The Bird on My Railing" (pages 16-19)

             the still wet iron of
             of fire
             escape's top
railing a truth is making this instant on our clock
             open with a taut
             unchirping un-
             breaking note -- a perfectly
             released vowel traveling
the high branches across the way, between us and the
             others, in their 

There is the moment when life begins — a place — in which at our purest form we are human and untainted.  It is from this moment we are propelled forward, and though we are moving forward in time and in maturity and growth, we also pause to look back to see where we have been.  It is about these places, these experiences of which Graham writes, focusing on observing those moments without judgment.

In the second and third sections of the collection, Graham revisits the notion that “matter is neither created nor destroyed” in that the self is neither created nor innovative because it borrows from its surroundings.  In many ways, humans are on the outside looking in and are intruders to the natural world in some moments.  There are a number of references throughout the collection to plants and generation in these sections, which act as a segue into the next section in which revision occurs and humanity interferes with the natural world.  There is even a revision of the Garden of Eden story here that uncovers the inner thoughts of one resident and the need to grow and experience more than s/he is given.

Place: New Poems by Jorie Graham touches on the inner experience and how “outside” of the world it makes the narrator feel, but it also examines the human need to touch, become, and take over — greedy for it all.  Through an examination of the human relationship to mothers and nature, Graham builds a disconnection between nurturing relationships and the desire for experience and immersion in the world around us.  Finding a place amongst family, nature, work, and the world is a journey all of us take, but not all of us complete.  In many ways, we are only shown slivers of the world outside ourselves and what it means and how it actually is, and even with this knowledge how can we apply it to our own journeys and futures?  The choice is up to us.

About the Poet:

Jorie Graham was born in New York City in 1950, the daughter of a journalist and a sculptor. She was raised in Rome, Italy and educated in French schools. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris before attending New York University as an undergraduate, where she studied filmmaking. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa.

Graham is the author of numerous collections of poetry, most recently Sea Change (Ecco, 2008), Never (2002), Swarm (2000), and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994, which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

You also can check out this review.

This is the 18th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


  1. liking the idea of these & with your description reminds me of Haris Vlavianos’s collection Affirmation
    “The mind seeks to escape.
    This thought
    (the possibility of the specific metaphor)
    has been exhausted.
    The roses, the vase, did not exist.
    They do not exist.
    The words however
    keep falling –
    snowflakes of a real life
    in the margins of the poem.”

    from The Poem of another Poetics
    After Wallace Stevens

  2. Sounds like an interesting premise and an interesting collection to peruse.

  3. Beth Hoffman says

    Thank you for introducing me to this poet. I enjoyed Jorie’s prose and will add this collection to my list.

    • I liked these, and they are longer than the poems I’ve enjoyed in the past, but these have a certain musical nature to them that kept me reading.