[Graham's] new book, From the New World: Poems 1976-2014, is an important consolidation of her work. It reshuffles but does not essentially alter our sense of her verse, which has grown somewhat more political and environmentally minded over time. We watch the length of her lines expand and contract. But her voice has barely changed. This is a poet who, for better and sometimes worse, arrived almost fully formed ... Her poems tend to be difficult, but not in an academic sense. She leads you to the door of comprehension, often enough, only to close it on your ankle. To remain with her, you must be willing to suspend reason and allow her language to flow over you like a syntactic spa treatment.
Graham started as a poet of brilliantly dissected subjectivity, more attuned to the flaws and the anomalies in her point of view than in anything she witnessed. But something dramatic happens in the course of From the New World, as her meticulous frame-by-frame inspection of reality begins to yield evidence of, among other things, ecological peril ... Because her poems enact the states—bewilderment, estrangement, panic, elation—that they describe, they are unusually subject to their own mental actions. Graham is sometimes faulted for language that is fuzzy or provisional; she is perhaps most notorious for poems that leave actual blank spaces or x and y variables where meaning apparently cannot, in the moment, be supplied ... This book conveys how poetry might function not as a well-wrought urn or cri de cœur but as an extension of the senses into realms where crucial sensory witness has been largely impossible.
Our new world is a fraught one, as she makes clear in ‘Guantánamo,’ alongside poems that meditate on World War II, on the poet’s youthful involvement with the student demonstrations in Paris in 1968, and touching with a cool observing eye on a wide range of assorted public matters such as foreclosures, artificial intelligence, racism, and unemployment … What makes Graham’s grappling with the political distinct, in this moment, is her unapologetic insistence that here the political is absolutely personal—that her reckoning with the destruction of the earth is also that reckoning with her own mortality … In the service of describing something of what Graham does and says in her poems, it seems I have neglected to convey the beauty and the joy that her work also brings. I would describe it as a solemn beauty, even a harsh one.
...only Graham has synthesized all of the available strains — the ageless tradition of poetic contemplation; the half-century trend toward self-revelation; the mischievous, self-conscious cynicism about the very proposition of meaningful language — into a style that reflects the real world back, gives powerful moral commentary and makes our hair stand a bit on end because something real glows in each of her poems. Graham is to post-1980 poetry what Bob Dylan is to post-1960 rock: She changed her art form, moved it forward, made it able to absorb and express more than it could before. It permanently bears her mark ... Graham risks alienating her readers by going above their heads or too far into her own. At times, especially in the long, many-sectioned poems of the late 1990s and early aughts, Graham can seem almost incomprehensible. Yet this is a symptom of artistic courage and growth: Graham has been fearless about her own artistic development. She’s gone wherever the poems have led her ... Graham is one of our great poets. Her words will long outlast all of this chatter.
A good 'selected poems' turns a career back into a voice. The individual books give way again to the maker, now editor as well as composer. Jorie Graham’s Pulitzer Prize–winning The Dream of the Unified Field did this to wide acclaim in 1996. From the New World, Graham’s second selected poems, does it again, reducing and arranging her abundant career into a fraction of its breadth. The selection leads readers into Graham’s later books’ glorious assaults on the lyric ... in the best of From the New World, meditations lead the mind into improvisations more matter of fact than full of grand gesture. The early work collected here teems with moments of observation and description lifted into thought, moments that alternately embrace and attack reality ... From the New World is more than simply a collection of parts of collections; it is the story of how the lyric poem’s claim to give the reader a bit of experience, 'an extra life,' might be credibly made.
If Graham has a fault, it is that she has sometimes, as in the poem 'From the New World,' allowed her conceptual points to run roughshod over her poetry’s quality. This is increasingly the case in the books that coincide by no coincidence with the Bush years — Never, Overlord, Sea Change. Her ecological worrying can devolve into hectoring, and her philosophical questing can rip past a reader’s patience too easily when her concepts and her administrations to sensed experience aren’t subtended by formal rigor.
And yet, reading From the New World, and especially Graham’s earlier work, I am reminded of her unparalleled capabilities. I firmly believe that Graham’s is the best poetry written in English in the last 40 years. The achievement of her verse is not only to make something happen: Graham’s poetry is something happening.
From the New World holds together with a sure (if diffuse) grace, elegantly pulling Graham’s best works into each other’s light. As such, there’s a gem-like play of reflection and refraction between the poems in this tidied context, and the collection comes off less like a scrapbook than a collage of the night sky — its continuity contiguous, but unaffected ... To this grand assembly, the collection adds four new poems that reinforce Graham’s engagement with the now alongside her fascination with the always. Chatbots and corporate speak invade the lines of 'Fast' and 'Honeycomb,' but Graham’s attentive touch can charge the most inert particulars with significance, like the dust of stars.
...probably not enough is made about the cinematic quality of Graham’s poems, which, like film, give the illusion of movement, albeit within lines and between stanzas. And like the greatest filmmakers, Graham is miraculously gifted at tracing those inexplicable moments that carry a thing — a crow, the sun, a snowflake — from stillness to motion, from wholeness to disintegration and back again ... I know of no living poet whose work so aligns with their reason for writing; I know of no living poet with a better reason for writing poetry. In Jorie Graham’s vision of a new world, poetry — thought in motion — is faster and more powerful than money, argument, or destruction. Take me there.