Image and the Arc of Feeling, 2nd Critical Article

Craig Lambert, deputy editor of Harvard Magazine wrote an insightful piece on Jorie Graham and why she possesses such a writing style. He explores the meaning of image and feelings in her work and her life. The first half of the article he spends talking about moments in Graham’s life that heavily influenced her writing.  The second half is her childhood growing up in Italy and how speaking three languages while living by the sea is so important to her. This article as a whole reflects on an individual writer’s life and thoughts. There are several direct quotes from Jorie Graham that are explanations of her own in correlation with her poetry.

I really enjoyed learning a lot more about this poet’s life. We spent time in class on her poetry but never learned much about her. This article gave me a huge basis to the background of her poems and writing in general. It starts off with Graham visiting Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst. She wanted to ask Dickinson a question in regards to her pregnancy. There is a detailed account of that visit by Graham in which the women wouldn’t let her in and she pleaded and cried just to see Dickinson’s bedroom. Once she got there, the infamous desk was gone at an exhibit. But in it’s place was Dickinson’s own cradle and that was Graham’s metaphorical answer. What’s interesting about this opening story is the background behind the background. Graham went to the house because she was wondering is being a parent would hurt her creativity. All the female poets who she looked up to were childless. She ended up getting her “zen koan” and named the child she was carrying Emily.

We discover throughout the next several paragraphs that Graham is a very open person with her hands in several writing programs. Lambert writes that Graham is very accessible and that she “can identify what the actual errand of your poem is-you may think it’s about your family, but she shows you something elusive that may be even more important.” There is also a lot of detail on Graham’s thoughts on reading. She says that instead of just memorizing and recording what you read, one must create the experience. She goes deeper with poetry saying “you have to feel deeply something inchoate, something which is coming up from a place that you don’t even know the register of.”  She talks about learning how to be the protagonist of your poem instead of the typical narrator.

In terms of poetry, Lambert gives us a very large section of explanation. Graham expresses her interest in image as a catalyst for inspiration. She talks about how once she has an image, it becomes in invitation to the senses to get to work that isn’t necessarily structures. “A good poem is always a reaction, a moment of acute surprise that occurred in the soul of the speaker.” Here we start to really see the theme of image and feelings. That writing isn’t just writing, it’s an act of the body, soul and mind all put together.

Literary critic Helen Vendler is introduced towards the end being labeled as one of critics that has written extensively on Graham. Lambert references Vendler in what she thinks about Graham’s poetry and prose. She says that Graham’s book Region of Unlikeness is a “remarkably original body of writing” for it’s interesting proportion of prose to poetry. Graham responds with one of my favorite quotes from her “You have to go somewhere you haven’t been before. To remain an artist, you have to keep erasing your path behind you.” I love this because it says so much in two sentences. She is saying that in order to be someone who considers themselves an artist you have to break new glass. That you have to cross lines that haven’t been touched. I see this as saying that if one keeps repeating old work or similar styles than they aren’t a true artist.

Graham’s poem “Band Practice” illustrates her methods first hand. She writes a seemingly simple poem about a band practice that is really a poem about the self. “The band is seen as a collective beast, but the bushes are not aware of the band; they can only feel light and wind.” This poem is about perception of ourselves and what we are “not equipped” to take in. Vendler said-“She’s writing a poem about the self without saying ‘I, me, my wife, my husband’-it’s writing in a completely objective way.” That is what’s innovative, that is what makes Graham a true artist.

The end of the article is all about Graham’s life growing up in Italy and going to a French school. She said that when she was young, she was taught three names for one thing-“I was taught three/names for the tree facing my window/Castagnochassagnechestnut.” 

Her childhood can be seen in her poetry and prose as well as in her daily life as a writer and professor. Lambert tells us about her writing process and the drafts she has spread out on her king bed. In the last paragraph Graham gives us a definition of a made thing whether it be tangible or not. “There’s the sensation of the made thing, it stands alone and it lives, without its maker. Like putting a child forth into the world. Life does win out over death in that way. Whether it’s made of flesh or of words, it stands against death.”

Lambert, Craig A., Ph.D. “Image and the Arc of Feeling.” Harvard Magazine. Harvard Magazine Inc., Jan. 2001harvard. Web. 27 Apr. 2013. <>

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