Lannan Foundation Video
She has a reputation for being difficult to read, in response she said that an apprenticeship to the work of the poet is often required to gain understanding. You need to become acquainted with their collected work, their obsessions, language etc. Things unfold after in-depth reading, try reading all their work in chronological order as fragments will be more difficult. This did make sense to me, especially in light of my experience with Louise Glück.
She also discussed difficulty of subject “If people don’t have the knowledge (eg classical Greek myths) to understand my poetry that’s not my problem”. Ha!! I do angst about the scientific content of my work and if readers will comprehend it. It’s quite liberating to hear poets say things like that. It is quite an elitist attitude and one that I have some problems with, yet when she said that I couldn’t help thinking “YES!”
On language she said something like – understanding the complexity of language leads to an understanding of the complexity of your inner world. She wants to challenge people to extend themselves and surely that can only be a good thing?
She also said “abstracting emotion doesn’t work, rehearse your vocabulary on the concrete first before you approach the ‘invisible’ – internal or abstract. Approach the invisible via the senses, read Hopkins, for example.” I think this is probably good advice for me to follow. With my Elemental sequence they only started working once I added concrete, sensual connections.
After watching the video I trotted over to the library and got out her selected poems for a read.
The title immediately appealed as it harked back to the Field Theory of poetry that Phyllis Webb talked about. The blurb reads:
Jorie Graham’s poetry insists that ‘the visible world’ exists: but what is its existence? Beyond the subjective, the merely lyric, she ventures with philosophical rigour into an area ‘saturated with phenomena’, in Helen Vendler’s phrase, a place of shifting perspectives, vertiginous reversals, but always moving towards possible celebration. Those who argue that poetry and science are at each other’s throats find here a poetry which brings into tense equilibrium science philosophy and history.
Well, I’d love someone to say that about my work.
It’s interesting to see her form change over time, her lines grow longer and longer. Couplets and stanzas disappear, poems grow longer.
In the late 90’s her lines get so long and the last word or words of the line tab out to the end, or sometimes she tabs and then goes on, then breaks a stanza mid way – en dashes too. I like it; in fact I tried it out on some new poems this weekend.
Her poem I watched a snake is interesting, each stanza introduces a notion of sewing, stanza 2 – thread, stanza 4 – knot, stanza 5 – stitch, stanza 6 – pattern, final stanza: stitches, pattern, fastens.
In addition the snake has duel meaning of biblical lust versus work
and then: “Desire / is the honest work of the body”, Passion is work / that retrieves us,” This is overlapped with an Elizabeth Bishop style of observancy. In the Lannan interview she talked about “Self” and separation, body / spirit / mind. In this poem she seems to be trying to stitch them all together – very clever.