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


Mary Walker Graham's two poems in the September issue of Poetry prove that poetry which employs the stratagems of official verse— conventional narrative structures, standard poetic devices— can still achieve the effects of avant-garde or innovative poetry. In an established mainstream context, where we expect to find the first person preening, 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 moody mysteries, reject closure, keep the reader compelled. This, rather than walking the proverbial dark woods to gain, via an ecstatic moment of realization, knowledge to didactically, bombastically impart. Stanley Kubrick used camera angles to create subtle moods 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 Amer-Lit poems slobber all over us in an attempt to gain love and acceptance. Graham's do not. Graham throws a veil over herself and dares us to peek beneath. 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 don't cloy, 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 and/or roulette. The anti-epiphanic I is sustained (though slightly diluted by hints of Elektra-ish approval seeking) in Parts of a Story, but No where, No one is the essential piece, the most pure expression, it seems, 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 an original fashion. I hope to see more from her soon.