By Jorie Graham
Ecco, 96 pp. $15.99
As titles go, “Place” offers a useful conceptual center of gravity for Jorie Graham’s new collection. It’s full of poems that wrangle with where we find ourselves — in time, in the space of our bodies (or the space of the cosmos), and most urgently, in the experience of our own experience. “Place’’ is unstable, breathtakingly fleeting. (Even that title seems to be pulling apart; its brief stint in meaning slowly undoing itself.)
This kind of temporality, this burden of linear time and compulsory motion toward a destination that “the mind is meant to want,” is what moves these poems forward (captured beautifully in “Treadmill”). Graham’s poems take full advantage of the tension between memory and experience. When sunlight moves across a flower in “The Bird On My Railing,” Graham’s lines attempt to save her place in time, but the poem won’t let her stay:
“go back up/ five lines it is/ still there I can’t/ go back, it’s/ gone,/ but you—“
And as usual, Graham’s mastery of the high-res, slo-mo zoom-in is on full display, and time is a texture she stretches like a canvas. A world blooms within the hoofprints of a horse charging down Omaha Beach. An ambitious wisteria vine makes its climb “on what remains on what’s left of this wall.” And as a child gets a push on a swing, you can feel the centrifuge of the universe in the climactic, thrilling “Lapse.”
Graham doesn’t transform our world into some other world; she invests full faith in experience, making memory material. She can fling her scale from the microbial to the celestial in a few exhilarating lines. There’s an almost empirically enforced oneness to her world; the very same one as ours, where we struggle to belong.