[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.