Monday, April 1, 2013

Sea Change by Jorie Graham

Philosophical nature poet Jorie Graham speaks out for our planet in Sea Change: Poems. Her words flow in a dreamy, stream-of-consciousness style.

"I was not a mistake is what my humanity thinks, I cannot / go somewhere / else than this body, the afterwards of each of these instants is just / another instant, breathe, breathe, / my cells reach out, I multiply on the face of the earth" ('Embodies')

Graham has an unusual and distinctive way of placing her words and lines on the page. Short and long lines balance from a centre point, reminding me of tides, and of our ecosystem's delicate balance. I'll try to replicate it here in an excerpt from 'Just Before:'

"- some felt it was freedom, or a split-second of unearthliness - but no, it was far from un-
                                                   earthly, it was full of
                                                   earth, at first casually full, for some millennia, then
desperately full - of earth - of copper mines and thick under-leaf-vein sucking in of
                                                  light, and isinglass, and dusty heat - wood-rings
                                                  bloating their tree-cells with more
life - and grass and weed and tree intermingling in the
                                                  undersoil - & the
                                                  earth's whole body round
                                                  filled with
                                                  uninterrupted continents of
                                                  burrowing - & earthwide miles of
                                                  tunnelling by the
mole, bark beetle, snail, spider, worm - & ants making their cross-
                                                  nationstate cloths of
                                                  soil, & planetwide the
                                                  chewing of insects upon leaf - fish-mouth on krill
                                                  the spinning of
coral, sponge, cocoon - this is what entered the pool of stopped thought - a chain suspended in
                                                  the air [...]"

I love how there are correspondences that connect many of the books I read. In this case, it's krill, which I've also encountered in a teen novel, a collection of short stories for adults, and a nonfiction audiobook about invertebrates, all within the past week or so. The teen protagonist in Jack Tumor says his mother was "completely lost by the horror of the killing-whales bit" of a joke he told her, "when we all should know that they are our brothers, and peace-loving Gentle Giants of the Ocean, even though nobody ever asked the krill what they thought about it." Karen Russell's Vampires in the Lemon Grove has a cheeky short story about the Food Chain Games from the point of view of krill fans: Dougbert Shackleton's Rules for Antarctic Tailgating. Sue Hubbell's Waiting for Aphrodite probably mentions krill somewhere too, but even if it doesn't, there is much about beetles, spiders, worms, coral, sponges and cocoons.

Like Hubbell, Graham reminds us that humanity's future on this planet is not guaranteed. These are lines from 'No Long Way Round,' the final poem in Sea Change:

"The dark / gathers. It is advancing but there is no / progress. It is advancing with its bellyful of minutes. It seems to chew as it / darkens. [...]
There are sounds the planet will always make, even / if there is no one to hear them." 

(That last bit reminds me of a song I haven't listened to in ages: Laurie Anderson's 'Blue Lagoon' from Mr. Heartbreak.)

Jorie Graham writes about the things that matter most. April is Poetry Month. Treat yourself.

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