The forebodingly absolute title of Graham's ninth collection does not set the tone for all of this book's 27 lyrics, which range over "starlings starting up ladderings of chatter"; an "Editor" and a "Speaking subject" trading stanzas and lines in "Solitude"; the minutes just before, during and after the striking of noon taken up by permutations of "Hunger," and many other eternities in a moment. Less doom-ridden and biblical than 2000's Swarm, Never collects work that appeared in magazines like the New Yorker and the Times Literary Supplement over the last few years. If the double and triple sets of parentheses—"(swarming but/ swaying in/ unison, without advancing) (waiting for/ some arrival)/ (the channel of them quickening)"—and brackets—"["protection"]/ ["money"] [paying them to go away] [gold]"—don't seem quite as fresh as when Graham first started using them, they do remain more than a stylistic tic, as she attempts to trace the comings and goings of thought orthographically. Similarly, in moves familiar from previous books, Graham frequently uses terms like "Firstness" and "Subsequence" to carry the conceptual weight the speaker's perceptions, and here stretches them to the point where they signify distance from ordinary life, rather than transcendence of it. More than anything else, this book shows Graham to be a most formidable nature poet, finding in her speaker's environment perfect analogues for states of consciousness: "All day there had been clouds and expectation/ of sun. It could 'break through' anytime, they said." (Apr. 5)
Forecast:Graham won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for The Dream of the Unified Field and this book will generate attention on its own. This is also probably the first time in U.S. history that the country's leading poets are women. Graham, Anne Carson and Louise Glück get most of the press, but look for National Poetry Month profiles and round-up reviews celebrating the achievements of others, including Rae Armantrout, Wanda Coleman, Lyn Hejinian, Myung-Mi Kim, Ann Lauterbach, Harryette Mullen, Alice Notley and Adrienne Rich—all of whom have recent books.