Jorie Graham
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Jorie Graham

Past Event: Monday, April 1, 2002

Jorie Graham, the daughter of a journalist and a sculptor, was born in 1950 and raised in Rome, Italy. As a teenager she helped out on the sets of Antonioni films, which inspired her interest in the medium of film. She went to French schools and to the Sorbonne, but was expelled for taking part in student protests. She transferred to New York University, where she studied film with Haig Manoogian and Martin Scorsese. It was at NYU that her passion for poetry was sparked after walking past a classroom taught by M. L. Rosenthal. The teacher was reciting a snippet of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T. S. Eliot: “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. / I do not think they will sing to me.” Graham was struck by how much the words moved her and since then, she has immersed herself in the writing and reading of poems.

With her nine collections of poetry, Jorie Graham has invented a new poetic language—at once lyrical and analytical, sensuous and philosophical, shifting between acceleration and breaking. “[She] stands among a small group of poets (Dickinson, Hopkins, Moore),” wrote The Nation, “whose styles are so personal that the poems seem to have no author at all: they exist as self-made things.” Rejecting the conventional lyric, Graham creates poems that range across the page and across human experiences, dramas of faith, perception, and emotion. Her poems press language to the breaking point, but out of the ruins emerges a startling new world. As she puts it: “the infinite variety of having once been, / of being, of coming to life, right there in the thin air.” Graham received the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for her collection The Dream of the Unified Field.

Her many other honors include a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and grants from numerous foundations. She has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Selected WorkNever (2002)Swarm (2000)The Errancy (1997)The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994 (1995)Materialism (1993)The End of Beauty (1987)Erosion (1983)

LinksBiography on the Academy of American Poets’ Web SiteFeatured poet in Ploughshares