Cover image for Swarm : (poems)
Swarm : (poems)
Graham, Jorie, 1950-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ecco Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
114 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3557.R214 S98 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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With Swarm, her first new collection since The Errancy, Pulitzer Prize-winner Jorie Graham has given us a book-length sequence of poems stunning in its sober encounter with destiny, eros, and law. The narrator, at times almost vertigo-ridden by the problem of who is addressed-whom there still is to address-negotiates passionately with those powers human beings feel themselves to be "underneath": God, matter, law, custom, the force of love.

To "swarm" is to leave an originating organism'a hive, a home country, a stable sense of one's body, a stable hierarchy of values -- in an attempt, by coming apart, to found a new form that will hold. The Roman Empire, its distillation in the Forum's remains, the Romantic imagination of that buried past ("underneath"), as well as the collapse of the erotic border between lovers' bodies, are persistent metaphors for the destabilization and reformation of the idea and sensation of personhood.

The "first" person and "enjambment" are characters in this book, as are the fragment, the gap, the sentence. And everywhere lovers seek to find the borders that must break as well as those that must at all cost hold. Clytemnestra await-ing Agamemnon, Calypso veiling Ulysses, Daphne accepting Apollo -- a variety of mythological characters reappear here, ea-ger to plead their stories into sense, desper-ate for some insight into the buried justice of natural law.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Pulitzer Prize^-winning poet Graham's newest poems read like the pronouncements of an oracle. Clipped and dramatic, they collapse time and render the root emotions that connect us to such archetypal figures as Daphne and Apollo, and Calypso and Ulysses, piercingly telegraphic. The poems in a cycle titled "Underneath" assert that we feel the same passions and sorrows and ask the same questions our ancestors felt and asked since the dawn of our being. Yet each poem broaches the question of change and the idea of reformation, which is implied in the image of a swarm of bees gathering to leave the hive for a new dwelling place. The body, too, is seen in transition; it is to be used up, broken apart, and left behind. Graham's lean stanzas generate a heart-pressing tension, particularly in a staccato exchange such as "explain calm / explain vision / explain property," which is either a to-do list for the poet, or appeals to a higher authority. When she does turn lyrical, the rhythmic beauty of her lines is startling and bittersweet. Once again, Graham has fused beauty and intellect, emotion and stoicism, in a volume that demands repeated readings. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

If Graham's last book, The Errancy (1997), was a self-consciously Eliotic attempt to find moral structure that came up frustrated, then Swarm is the plague that follows. And if the previous book was watched over by the many angels of its titles, this seventh collection is presided over by the peculiar Western fusion of classical drama and a Judeo-Christian God: "At the front end, the meanwhile: God's laughter./ Are you still waiting for the true story? (God's laughter)/ The difference between what is and could be? (God's laughter)/ In this dance the people do not move." The flap copy and end notes together indicate that the collection is to be read as a book-length sequence of poems, one which calls on Eurydice, Calypso, Daphne and Eve as masks through which the poet again questions the possibility of morality, this time coming down firmly on the side of fate in the face of law: "To be told best not to touch./ To touch./ For the farewell of it./ And the further replication./ And the atom/ saturated with situation." The pun on "atom," along with a forbidding quality to many of the love poems here, make the book feel like an elaborate justification for the abandonment of an unnamed Eden or a significant other. Numerous poems are titled "Underneath" and interrogate, with Graham's characteristic energy, various forms of self-suppression and dissolution--through text, sex, violence and history. Graham is such a good writer that she at times attains the harsh, Sophoclean abstraction of the "I" she seems to be aiming for, but she can't quite make the indiscretions of that "I" take on the cumulative force of the figures she uses to back it. Readers will revel in Graham's sharply fragmentary powers of description, but the stakes are high enough here that some will wonder whether the poems' emotional permutations spring from a desire for truth or for self-validation. Poetry Book Club Main Selection. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Swarm marks a stylistic change for Graham, whose work over the last two decades has garnered a Pulitzer Prize, favorable comparisons to Wallace Stevens, and other accolades. While her concerns remain metaphysical and ontological and her perspective still unapologetically solipsistic, the richly expansive lines that characterized her poems as recently as The Errancy (LJ 6/15/97) have given way to a fragmented minimalism, to feints and half-steps constricted by the imperative mood ("Interrupt belief./ Write downhope./ Move lips in sleep./ Widen"), broken by parentheticals and extended spacings, thinned by abstraction, or muted with a self-conscious reverence toward an unnamed (God? the poet herself?) "you." These pieces are nothing if not prayers, but prayers meant to echo only within the chancel of the subject's mind, so that to read them is to feel like an eavesdropper. In her notes, Graham acknowledges the influence of experimental poets like Susan Howe and Michael Palmer, but her appropriation of postmodern techniques creates a surface out of synch with the spiritual--almost quaintly Miltonic--ambitions glimmering at the center of these poems.--Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



from The Reformation Journal The wisdom I have heretofore trusted was cowardice, the leaper. I am not lying. There is no lying in me, I surrender myself like the sinking ship, a burning wreck from which the depths will get theirs when the heights have gotten theirs. My throat is an open grave. I hide my face. I have reduced all to lower case. I have crossed out passages. I have severely trimmed and cleared. Locations are omitted. Uncertain readings are inserted silently. Abbreviations silently expanded. A "he" referring to God may be capitalized or not. (is crying now)ááááááááá show me is crying nowááááááááááá (what's wrong) in a strange treeááá of atomsááá of too fewááááááááááá more áááááááá no wonder Give me the glassy ripeness Give me the glassy ripeness in failure Give me the atom laying its question at the bottom of nature Send wordááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááá Clear fields Make formal eventáááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááá Walk ááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááá Turn back Reduce all to lower caseááááááá Have reduced all Cross out passagesáááááááááááá Have inserted silently is there a name for? glassy ripeness in failure born and raised and you? (go back)ááááááááááááááááááááááá (need more) having lived itáááááááááááááá leaves it possible fearááá lamentationááá shameááá ruinááá believeááá me explainááááá given to explainááááá born of Absence is odiousááááááááááááááááááááááá to God I'm asking Unseen unseenááááááááááááááááááááá the treasure unperceived Unless you compareááááááááááá the treasure may be lost Oh my belovedááááááááááááááááááá I'm asking More atoms, more days, the noise of the sparrows, of the universals Yet colder here now than in the atom still there at the bottom of nature that we be founded on infinite smallness which occasions incorruption or immortality" (incorruption because already as little as it can be) (escape square, wasted square, safety square, hopeless square) "to all except anguish the mind soon adjusts" have reduced, have trimmed, have cleared, have omitted haveááááá abbreviationsááááá silentlyááááá expanded to whatáááááááááááááá avail explaináááááá asks to be followed explaináááááá remains to be seen á (Continues...) Excerpted from Swarm by Jorie Graham Copyright © 2003 by Jorie Graham Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.