Swarm: Poems

Jorie Graham, Author Ecco $23 (128p) ISBN 978-0-88001-695-7
If Graham's last book, The Errancy (1997), was a self-consciously Eliotic attempt to find moral structure that came up frustrated, then Swarm is the plague that follows. And if the previous book was watched over by the many angels of its titles, this seventh collection is presided over by the peculiar Western fusion of classical drama and a Judeo-Christian God: ""At the front end, the meanwhile: God's laughter./ Are you still waiting for the true story? (God's laughter)/ The difference between what is and could be? (God's laughter)/ In this dance the people do not move."" The flap copy and end notes together indicate that the collection is to be read as a book-length sequence of poems, one which calls on Eurydice, Calypso, Daphne and Eve as masks through which the poet again questions the possibility of morality, this time coming down firmly on the side of fate in the face of law: ""To be told best not to touch./ To touch./ For the farewell of it./ And the further replication./ And the atom/ saturated with situation."" The pun on ""atom,"" along with a forbidding quality to many of the love poems here, make the book feel like an elaborate justification for the abandonment of an unnamed Eden or a significant other. Numerous poems are titled ""Underneath"" and interrogate, with Graham's characteristic energy, various forms of self-suppression and dissolution--through text, sex, violence and history. Graham is such a good writer that she at times attains the harsh, Sophoclean abstraction of the ""I"" she seems to be aiming for, but she can't quite make the indiscretions of that ""I"" take on the cumulative force of the figures she uses to back it. Readers will revel in Graham's sharply fragmentary powers of description, but the stakes are high enough here that some will wonder whether the poems' emotional permutations spring from a desire for truth or for self-validation. Poetry Book Club Main Selection. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/29/1999
Release date: 10/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 128 pages - 978-1-85754-495-4
Ebook - 132 pages - 978-0-06-210589-9
Paperback - 132 pages - 978-0-06-093509-2
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