Sentences in Jorie Graham’s “Prayer”

Graham’s shift from observation to meditation happens midway through the poem, appropriately, on the word “change.” One of the tools which Graham uses to accomplish this change effectively is sentence construction. Before the one hyphen, which links the two halves of the poem together grammatically, every word serves as part of a single sentence, a series of thoughts chained in a logical and progressing row. Avoiding breaking the lines into separate sentences keeps the flow of the poem quick and smooth, and creates a sense of expectation in the reader, perhaps unconscious, perhaps not, so that when the first period arrives, we know we have reached an important place.

Graham then divides the remainder of the poem into much shorter and simpler sentences: “This is the force of faith. Nobody gets what they want.” No sentence in the latter section even approaches the length of the one that makes the first half. In this way, the turn to meditation takes on a formal aspect, representing it on the page in a way very similar to the minnows described at the beginning: “each a miniscule muscle, but… making of their unison a visual current.”

The use of grammar and syntax to signal or add to a shift in a poem is a delicate operation, and one that could easilyoverdramatize or distract from the content, but used here, paralelling the turn into meditation, it feels natural and does not overshadow the content of the poem. I find this very relevant to my own writing in that I believe grammatical rules should not be broken unless absolutely necessary. I try to use correct grammar as often and as consistently as I possibly can, and looking at Graham’s first sentence one can see that it is neither a run-on nor a fragment, but in fact follows perfectly the grammatical rules of English. Examining  sentences such as this one will I think help to alleviate the rule-breaking desire which the freedom of poetry-writing sometimes inspires.

One Response to “Sentences in Jorie Graham’s “Prayer””

  1. bennett89 Says:

    When I first read though this poem I couldn’t quite pick out what I thought was different from before the turn and after it. I knew where the turn was at (right after “change” as you said), but it took me a few readings to find out just what you did about the sentence structures. It is very interesting to think of the description part of this poem as constant ongoing thoughts (which can be compared to a ever moving current). And then to have the mediation part stray away from this image of the current and being placed in actual sentences with punctuation creates a very interesting turn in the poem. Like you I tend to always try to write following grammatical rules almost to the tee, but it seems interesting to try to stretch this a bit like Graham did.

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