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This review is taken from PN Review 258, Volume 47 Number 4, March - April 2021.

Cover of Runaway
MaitreyabandhuThe Visible We Love Runaway, Jorie Graham (Carcanet)
In The Master and His Emissary – for my money the most important book on imagination and culture since George Steiner’s Real Presences – Iain McGilchrist writes that one of the dangers of modernity is the ‘willingness to accept an explicit manifesto or message … as a substitute for imaginative experience’. Jorie Graham’s Runaway could be read as an essay on this danger. The power of the book, and of her best work in general, comes from the conflict created between the instinct to make statements and the contrary pull of the imagination.

Graham’s poetry is characterised by intensity, by an urgency of feeling and expression shading at times into desperation. Her best poems gather pressure as they go, like something being squeezed into the top of an airtight box. An important element of this pressure is her relationship with the great poetry of the past. Her yearning for lyric beauty founded on the natural world – derived from the Romantics, especially Keats – is in tension with her conviction that futurity makes such yearning obsolete.

Poetry is usually past-haunted, Graham’s poetry is future-haunted. Runaway portrays our present as a dehumanised future of global warming, wild fires, species collapse, mass migration, information glut, surveillance technology, and AI. It is a wired-in, post-human world: ‘here’s where free choice vanished, here rights, here the / real meaning of the word’(‘Exchange’). The unique individual with her lyric voice has been deleted: ‘My soul has its alarm tuned off’ (‘Overheard in the Herd’); ‘My self, ...

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