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This article is taken from PN Review 122, Volume 24 Number 6, July - August 1998.

Jorie Graham and the Politics of Transcendence Justin Quinn


Jorie Graham belongs to a poetic tradition which attempts to encompass the most ecstatic moments of spiritual transcendence without absconding from political and social contexts. Her staunchest advocate, Helen Vendler, has placed her firmly in the meditative lyric tradition that is concerned above all with matters of spirit and human perception. But as is clear from a recent article on her in The New Yorker, the political has always mattered to Graham in an immediate way. In the 1970s, through her marriage into the newspaper dynasty of the Grahams (owners of Newsweek and the Washington Post, which broke the Watergate story), she was in frequent contact with US politicians at the highest level, and that perspective has perhaps sponsored her awareness of the ways in which the personal sphere is interpenetrated by the space of politics. This awareness is not anecdotal, as, say, in the case of Robert Lowell in 'Waking Early Sunday Morning' where he imagines the private moments of a public figure ('the President / girdled by his establishment / this Sunday morning, free to chaff...', etc.) in order to rhyme these with the autobiography of the speaker. Graham's approach is different, more phenomenological as it concentrates, first and foremost, on the perceptual horizon of the speaker, the space surveyed by the poet's eye. For if the political and national cannot be perceived in this immediate sphere of the private perception, what significance can they have?

Iconic for this tradition is ...

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