REVIEW by Jem PosterNWR Issue 99
P L A C E
by Jorie Graham
Shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and winner of the Forward Prize, P L A C E
has significantly raised Jorie Graham’s profile on this side of the Atlantic. The attention given to the collection is to be welcomed – contemporary North American poetry isn’t sufficiently widely known over here – but the book often seems more earnest than engaging, and is arguably less impressive than some of Graham’s earlier collections.
As its title suggests, questions of location lie at the collection’s heart. Born in New York, raised in Rome, educated at the Sorbonne as well as at the universities of New York and Iowa, and currently dividing her time between France and the United States, Graham has an acute sense of both place and displacement. The importance of the concept of home is implicit in her assertion of land-ownership – ‘my field, mine… I have paid for it’ (‘On the Virtue of the Dead Tree’) – or her cataloguing of the details of her domestic surroundings – ‘the floor the panes the mirror the single stalk of / freesia the gilded frame the two lionclaw-footed chairs and the tree-knots / still in / the floors someone laid in 1860, the / wormholes here and there in them’ (‘Of Inner Experience’) – but she knows that her ownership is threatened and that displacement may be our natural or inevitable condition. ‘The road,’ she writes in ‘Treadmill’, ‘wants us to learn “nowhere”, its shiny / emptiness, its smile of wide days so swollen / with void’...
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