Mary Walker Graham: Two Poems in "Poetry", September '05

Every once in a while, I find solid evidence that mainstream verse is not completely dead. Mary Walker Graham's two poems in the September issue of "Poetry" are such proof. Graham subverts mainstream conventions by creating what seems to be an "anti-epiphanic I." That is, these are (more or less) lyric poems, which pay close and loving attention to syntax, craft, and melopoeia; but the protagonist of the poems goes out of her way to preserve her moody mysteries, keep the reader compelled. Stanley Kubrick used camera angles to create a mood of alienation and unease; Graham uses her "I" in much the same way. These are the closing lines of "No where, No one":

Drowned or owned,

I'm now here. My face breaks with a bit of blue-
a bit of bruise and some rawness in the rushes.

Many mainstream poems are puppy dogs, slobbering all over us in an attempt to gain love and acceptance. Graham's are not. Graham throws a veil over herself and dares us to peek beneath, dares us to care. It is a dare because Graham is complete and self-sufficient in her isolated stasis; she doesn't need us. Exquisite alliterations in these lines, but they are not cloying, because Graham seems to be throwing them out merely to create ambiance. She thus moves beyond the faux-intimacy of Confessional poetry, into a realm of Impressionistic, free-associative chance/roulette. The anti-epiphanic I is sustained (though slightly diluted by hints of Elektra-consonant approval seeking) in "Parts of a Story," but "No where, No one" is the essential piece, the most pure expression of Graham's original talent. It's encouraging to see "Poetry" taking a chance with some fresh, intriguing new voices. It's even nicer to see Ms. Graham deconstruct the mainstream lyric poem and put it back together in such a magnetic fashion. I hope to see more from her soon.