Pulitzer Prize winning poet Jorie Graham was born in 1950 in New York City. The daughter of a journalist and a sculptor, she was raised in Rome, Italy and educated in French schools. She attended New York University as an undergraduate, studying filmmaking and later received an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa. Since then, Graham has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. She also served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003.
Graham has written many books of poetry, including The Overlord, The Errancy, The End of Beauty, and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994, for which she won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize.
Graham’s work is beautiful, unique, and engages readers on multiple levels. She has never been one to examine just a small aspect of life or a finite emotional moment, rather, Graham brings to her reader the entirety of the human experience. Her work ranges from the intellectual and philosophical to the domestic, from the global and political to the apocalyptic. In her vision, the poet is not simply one who transcribes experience but one who also constructs it. Her poems address with urgency the most important issues of the day.
In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, she has received many awards and honors, chief among them a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
All of this information and much more is available on her Web site. An interesting interview Graham gave recently on Open Book is also well worth watching. As always, Poets.org and The Poetry Foundation are also fantastic resources for more information on Graham and her contributions to the world of poetry.
I have personally always loved The Dream of the Unified Field because it represents such a large cross-section of her work and growth as a poet. In “Orpheus and Eurydice,” one of the many poems included in this book, Graham writes a complicated interpretation of the myth.
by Jorie Graham
Up ahead, I know, he felt it stirring in himself already, the glance,
the darting thing in the pile of rocks,
already in him, there, shiny in the rubble, hissing Did you want to remain
the point-of-view darting in him, shiny head in the ash-heap,
hissing Once upon a time, and then Turn now darling give me that look,
that perfect shot, give me that place where I’m erased….
The thing, he must have wondered, could it be put to rest, there, in the glance,
could it lie back down into the dustiness, giving its outline up?
When we turn to them—limbs, fields, expanses of dust called meadow and
will they be freed then to slip back in?
Because you see he could not be married to it anymore, this field with minutes in
called woman, its presence in him the thing called
future—could not be married to it anymore, expanse tugging his mind out into it,
tugging the wanting-to-finish out.
What he dreamed of was this road (as he walked on it), this dustiness,
but without their steps on it, their prints, without
What she dreamed, as she watched him turning with the bend in the road (can you
understand this?)—what she dreamed
was of disappearing into the seen
not of disappearing, lord, into the real—
And yes she could feel it in him already, up ahead, that wanting-to-turn-and-
by his glance,
sealing the edges down,
saying I know you from somewhere darling, don’t I,
saying You’re the kind of woman who etcetera—
(Now the cypress are swaying) (Now the lake in the distance)
(Now the view-from-above, the aerial attack of do you
now the glance reaching her shoreline wanting only to be recalled,
now the glance reaching her shoreline wanting only to be taken in,
(somewhere the castle above the river)
(somewhere you holding this piece of paper)
(what will you do next?) (—feel it beginning?)
now she’s raising her eyes, as if pulled from above,
now she’s looking back into it, into the poison the beginning,
giving herself to it, looking back into the eyes,
feeling the dry soft grass beneath her feet for the first time now the mind
looking into that which sets the ___________ in motion and seeing in there
a doorway open nothing on either side
(a slight wind now around them, three notes from up the hill)
through which morning creeps and the first true notes—
For they were deep in the earth and what is possible swiftly took hold.
Jorie Graham, “Orpheus and Eurydice” from The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems, 1974-1994. Copyright © 1995 by Jorie Graham.