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This review is taken from PN Review 168, Volume 32 Number 4, March - April 2006.

I WAKE UP OPERATIONAL JORIE GRAHAM, Overlord (Carcanet) £9.95

You are not supposed to write in the presence so I can't really do this task [for us] in there [feel fear when I feel for my pen] [in pocket]...


Complex, hesitant language. Jorie Graham, in her 2002 volume, Never, sits in an Umbrian church, trying to overcome the many layers of contradiction which meet her as a writer: writing what is forbidden, writing that cancels or obliterates the instant it seeks to capture: 'taking it all down'. This is a writing space which Graham has inhabited for a long time. Helen Vendler caught it well in Soul Says as:

a practice of connecting together moments widely separated in time and space and occurring on disparate mental levels (usually the autobiographical, the historical, and the mythical). Each of these moments is important; each has its own unintelligibility; each demands to be both recorded and comprehended... As she comes to understand why she has intuitively connected them, she can compose a poem juxtaposing and interlacing them.


In her new book Overlord, she explores this space with obsessive intensity and a surprising degree of self-exposure. Her work aspires to a kind of confessional poetry which enlarges the personal moment into a context of existential dread, the presence of history. With long lines and near-prose rhythms, repeated titles and themed subjects, this book presents itself as a strong sequence, possibly a continuous ...


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