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Sea Change: Poems Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 1, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Graham's 11th collection contains what might be her most urgent and impassioned writing to date. These 19 poems continue Overlord's (2005) meditation on current political and social crises, but the relative composure and straightforwardness of that volume has given way to panic, breathlessness, vertigo and fracture: life disturbing life, & it/ fussing all over us, like a confinement gone/ insane, blurring the feeling of/ the state of / being. Humankind's degradation of the environment and itself during wartime are Graham's primary concerns, with the title referring specifically to the way in which an apparently small shift—an undercurrent's warming by 1 degree—will bring forth ruin: the in - / dispensable / plankton is forced north now, & yet further north,/ spawning too late for the cod larvae hatch, such/ that the hatch will not survive, nor the/ species in the end. Here, the interconnectedness of all life isn't just a spiritual commonplace, it is grounds for a call to action, and one that Graham—a poet of rare responsiveness to the natural world and a thinker of great ethical responsibility—is uniquely qualified to make.
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Graham’s oracular books run wide to accommodate her long lines, which span the planetary and the personal, deep time and the blink of a moment. Equally attentive to the thrumming world around us and the answering whir of consciousness within, Graham turns ontological in the midst of sensuous descriptions, then forthrightly confronts accelerating, plain-as-day, dire changes in the seas, the soils, and the weather. Dreams glide by like clouds, birds busy themselves, rain falls, a woman showers, temperatures rise, and rivers evaporate. Graham envisions the planet’s countless tiny beings burrowing, tunneling, and chewing, while humankind attempts to impose order on the tumult of creation, making art and armies and tombs. Her poetic persona watches life through a window, a stance emblematic of our limited perception, our fantasy of apartness and safety. In fire-breathing poems of testimony and surrender, Graham opens herself to beauty and loss. “The permanent is ebbing,” she writes, “the new Age of Extinctions is / now.” The future may not be ours. A bracing, valiant, and sublime collection. --Donna Seaman
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The poems here address the world at crisis. Sometimes, as better readers than I have pointed out, they seem to address directly a future populace, one unaware of the state of emergency that we found ourselves in so many years back (into our present). And so "presence" itself becomes a theme, as it does for most of Graham's post-Erosion work. "I cannot look a the world hard enough," Graham has said in a recent interview. Certainly, there are gorgeous lyrics about nature's susceptibility to pressure, or even observance. Graham seems perfectly content to describe a world that shies at the presence of a viewer. Sight is no longer true enough; thought no longer ample. "Sea Change," "This," "Full Fathom, "Positive Feedback Loop," "Undated Lullaby" and "Root End" all play thrillingly with the state of the natural world at the cusp of irreversible change in the presence of a speaker who can't quite capture it. They feature her signature blend of crisp diction with a humble reluctance to try to pin down descriptions with mere words. The uncertain fascinates Graham beautifully and wrenchingly.
This should be one of Graham's more straightforward works. It is not. My only complaint about it so far is that its theme seems so closely related to Never's, that of the environment on precarious balance against the forces that want to ruin it. That book saw some of Graham's best writing to date ["Prayer," "Gulls," "Philosopher's Stone," "Evolution (How Old Are You?)"], but this one feels less open to outright pleasure. Maybe this is intentional: in one poem, it is brought to our attention that fish are dying along the Great Barrier Reef, and a plum tree in France has blossomed out of season. Where Never was rife with description and reassessment, this book functions strongly on reportage, something Graham has let influence her work following the seminal and difficult Swarm.
I look forward to a move away from the political. I think one of our best writers forcing thoughts of world crisis upon us makes us lose some of the vast cultural commentary that has been such a solid staple of her earlier work. And surely it is not fair to accuse her of repeating herself, but on the whole, the book feels like a rehash of Never's grandest themes. In the end, the book makes constant use of the (in)famous questions regarding whether poetry and politics can be joined (or separated, depending on the argument).
In the meantime I will keep reading (the alternating line lengths practically beg this of the reader) and reading any comments that may appear, so that I can try to get a better grip on this latest by one of my all-time favorites.
Ms. Graham employs a new visual format to show the stark dichotomy between our passions and the necessities of life in a world overstressed. Her new work "Sea Change" at once lyrically predicts and urgently decries our imperiled shared future.
Well worth the read.