Jorie Graham b 1951

Jorie Graham was born in New York City, but spent her childhood in Italy, much of it, she has said, peering into the churches of Rome and looking at the many paintings within their chapels. Graham's mother was a painter and sculptor and her father a theological scholar. Commentators have traced the combination of spiritual quest, moral purpose, and insistent claims of the importance of art in Graham's poetry to these early influences, while she has acknowledged her early and abiding interest in similar issues in the work of W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and Wallace Stevens.

Graham's higher education began at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she took part in the 1968 student uprisings. Continuing her education in the United States, she graduated with a BFA from New York University in 1973, and an MFA from the University of Iowa in 1978. She subsequently taught at Murray State University, Humboldt State University, and Columbia, before in 1983 starting to teach at the University of Iowa, where she remained for many years. She is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University.

The first two volumes of poetry that Graham published were part of the Princeton Contemporary Poets series: Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts (1980) and Erosion (1983). Both concern themes of longing for spiritual attainment. This concern was merged in her book, The End of Beauty (1987), with some of the thematic and formal concerns usually associated with the Language poets - resisting closure, the indeterminacy of the self, the need to re-establish the contact of language and reality, and an organic theory of composition. Coupled with these concerns in Graham's work is a continued sense of the moral imperatives of the writer and poem in a world that she sees as beset by materialism and falsehood. Formally with this book her poetry became more fragmented, with ever-shifting patterns, as part of keeping questions, language, and meanings open. The extremes of the experimentation in this volume were more muted in her next, Region of Unlikeness (1991), the title taken from the writings of St. Augustine. One way in which the import of these concerns is connected to art for Graham is in her many poems on painters and poets. When she co-edited The Best American Poetry, 1990 with David Lehman she used the introduction to articulate her views on the necessary direction and imperatives of contemporary poetry, particularly noting the decay of exactness in the broader uses of language, and the return of ambition and scope in the aims of contemporary poets.

More recent volumes are Materialism (1993), The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994 - which was awarded the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry - The Errancy (1997), Swarm (2000), and Never (2002). Her many awards include a MacArthur Fellowship, and in 1997 she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

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