Archive for May, 2010

Jorie Graham

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.

Orpheus and Eurydice

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
completely unharmed?—

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.


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Always identify abbreviations the first time you use them.

You do not need to identify the abbreviation if you feel confident that your reader is able to identify the acronym, such as when the acronym is more commonly used than the words it abbreviates (for example, it would be unnecessary to write out all the words for CEO, NATO, or AIDS). It’s always good to keep your audience in mind, however; although you may feel that readers who are specialists in the discipline for which you are writing may not want or need to have terms spelled out for them, some style guides require that this be done at the first occurrence of the term.

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Commas, semi-colons, and colons.

Remember to use commas after an introductory phrase of a sentence, for example:
At first, I always forgot when to use commas.

It may also help to read your sentences aloud to determine where you would naturally pause or draw a breath, for example:
If it’s a short pause, like this one, you probably need a comma.

However, if it’s a longer pause and especially if the information you’re providing is the beginning of a new thought that expounds on the information already provided, you probably need a semi-colon; remember that whatever follows a semi-colon must be able to stand on its own as a full sentence.

As shown in the previous examples, the colon should be used to present an example or a list, for example:
I made a list of fruit I wanted to purchase at the grocery: apples, oranges, bananas, peaches, and pomegranates.

And here’s where it gets complicated. If you’re list includes information that needs to be set off by commas, you must then use semi-colons to separate each list item, for example:
I made a list of fruit I wanted to purchase at the grocery: apples, which are red; oranges, which are orange; bananas, which are yellow; peaches, which are peach; and pomegranates which are red.

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For those of us who work at home, the days can often be long and sometimes quite distracted depending on your ability to keep yourself on task. For me, that ability varies from day-to-day; I’m fairly sure most people feel the same way.

On beautiful days, I can’t keep myself away from the outdoors; on rainy days, playing inside with the dog seems infinitely more compelling than sitting at my desk. My back gets stiff; I fidget and squirm. I remind myself of an inattentive student from my teaching days. However, if I let this behavior go on unchecked, I’ll never get anything productive done. So, I’ve come up with some creative solutions to overcome this lack of productiveness while still giving in to those urges to run outside into the sunshine, to play with the dog, and to go to the coffee shop in the middle of the work day.

1. Set your office up in such a way as to minimize your distractions and support your productivity. That is, have all the supplies you need ready at hand so that you don’t have any further excuses to get up and leave the room than those we have already mentioned (as well as those we haven’t!). Also, try not to set up shop in a multi-use space where you might also be tempted to store, say, your knitting, yoga, or Pilates supplies. However, if you must do this, at least keep these distractions tucked away in storage bins or closets. I do use my office space as a yoga space, but the mat stays tucked away unless it’s during the time I’ve prescribed for that activity. This way, after some practice, when you sit down at your desk your mind will eventually get into the habit of getting to work rather than allowing distractions to slip in.

2. Use your distractions to your advantage. Take part in your favorite game with your dog or make tea for yourself on scheduled mini-breaks from work sessions. These might be 10 or 15 minute scheduled intervals once every hour, two hours, or whatever allotted amount of time best suits your stamina. If you tend to be looking at the clock eagerly awaiting these play breaks, use a kitchen (or any other kind of) timer so that you can concentrate on the task at hand and not on when your next break is approaching. Use bigger distractions (like gardening) as a reward at the end of the work day. Taking breaks is ultimately crucial for higher productivity and keeping stamina up. If you work on a computer all day, remember that it’s also vitally important for your health to have breaks to readjust your eyes away from the screen, to stretch your back and legs, and to stretch your arms to prevent carpel tunnel syndrome.

3. Resist setting up an on-the-go office in the local coffee shop. Although you may love coffee (or tea), the music selection the barista plays, and the visual and audio stimulation you get from being in the world–with people–versus the isolation we face in the home office, it is ultimately unprofessional, not to mention entirely too distracting, to set up shop in the coffee shop. I tried this out for a while and although I made many friends who were also “working” there, my productivity plummeted to an all-time low mainly because I spent too much time conversing with others who were also “working” or because I would become immersed in some other action taking place in the vicinity.

If you feel you absolutely must leave your home office for a change of scenery in order to maintain your sanity, try someplace more conducive to working such as your local library. Or, if it’s one of those can’t-stay-away-from-the-outdoors beautiful days, find some work that you can take with you to your local park and set up shop on a bench for a few hours or a half day. I’ll often print out some editing and do the work the old-fashioned way–with a pencil.

4. Remember that it is OK to take a lunch. When I first began working at home, I would often work through lunch because it was so easy to do if I was on a roll and no one was around to pull me away. However, nutrition is essential to brain power and health, so once again, set that timer if you must and use your lunch hour to go socialize at the coffee shop or to meet some friends at a restaurant. Just because we work at home does not mean we somehow should be isolated. Just remember to set your boundaries and return to work within an allotted time.

5. In addition to taking lunches with friends for opportunities to socialize, join professional associations or volunteer to combat the feeling of being a hermit. Usually, such associations will have some form of socializing built-in such as bimonthly pot-luck dinners and often offer career enrichment opportunities such as conferences and classes. Volunteering, especially if you volunteer for something your passionate about, not only provides social opportunities, but also enriches our general state of well-being while giving to the community.

6. Remember that there is no limit to the activities you can engage in on your scheduled work breaks. Do yoga or go to the gym, stare out the window for 15 minutes and zone out, or do whatever it is that pleases you.

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