The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems, 1974-1994, by Jorie Graham

The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems, 1974-1994 - Jorie Graham

My tastes in poetry appear to change more rapidly than with fiction (or non-fiction). In the latter case, I'd say moving from young adult stuff and more genre fiction into mostly literary fiction in college and beyond has been the biggest change. With poetry, it feels like every half dozen years I find it difficult to enjoy a poet I used to like or even love. Poetry is tied more closely to my identity as a writer, and it's harder to read poetry without a writer's eye than it is fiction.


I've also noticed that reading a poet's selected or complete poems may not make the best reading experience for me. Even though I stretched out my reading of Graham's selected, her poems are notoriously dense and make similar moves throughout the years. She's a poet whose poems I'd only previously encountered in anthologies or whose individual poems were read to me or recommended. It's a lot to take on a large collection of her work, and I'd be interested to know what reading a single book of poems would feel like.


Graham is the epitome of a lyric poet. In fact, it's impressive just how long and complexly she can explode a moment in time or one observation or small act. She layers extended associations. You can be sure Thing A will turn at one point into Thing B until you get Thing AB in the end. The "turns" are unexpected in terms of WHAT the association(s) will be, but that there will be such a "turn" is expected. Some poems don't movie this way; the last few in the collection are deeply focused on one image/observation/act.


She writes of the natural world obsessively, but in a completely different way than, say, Wordsworth and his daffodils. There's a post-modern meta quality to her poems; there's typically a moment where the act of poem (or even thought-) making is acknowledged. Nature and the nature of language and thought are her key themes. Often works of art, including film, serve as the natural world does in other poems. There's a sort of scaffolding taking place. She's also a great poser of questions (a tendency that's been pointed out in my own work, so I've learned to avoid it--questions can be evasions) that feel like part of her investigations into how the world exists (or how we exist in it).


I'm learning more and more that I ought to read right away poetry I'm drawn to, not to wait or forget until later. Poetry's of the moment itself (especially lyric poetry), so I shouldn't let it pass, or it may...pass.