Post One – Jorie Graham’s “Prayer”

I concur with cmdrquack (is that James?) in that the turn definitely occurs with the m-dash; the first half of the poem is, true to the emblemic structure, descriptive, and the second half contemplative. The “I” begins watching a school of minnows, paying special attention to their unison movements, then comes to declaration, “This is freedom” (line 13). This realization takes the poem beyond the facade (the minnows) to make a revelation about life: that it is going to suck from time to time and that we “cannot of course come back” (23). How exactly is the turn accomplished? The minnows aren’t a dominating metaphor, as they are simply a vehicle for the revelation. Graham’s “I” has reprocessed the minnows, discarding the physical to look at the meanings of movement. Perhaps the poetic device is symbolism? There is no doubt that this is not about the minnows nor the time and place.

The turn may achieve some low-level shock for a reader, who although he/she expects the turn is maybe not aware it is so diverging. Not diverging– takes us to an underlayer of the minnows’ lives. It also makes the poem a bit more accessible, tosses aside the debris so we can witness the underneath “fact of life.” The voice is, metaphorically, seeing a reverse reflection of the minnows. As she watches, the minnows stop being minnows and are, through a sort of lens (thank you, blogvana) become a illustration of human life. The minnows are transferred through the water into an entirely different scene, which is revealed after the turn.

I think I use this technique fairly regularly when I write nature poems, as it is particular interest to me how humans see themselves in an us-versus-them, human-versus-nature (as if humans aren’t a part of nature, aren’t animals). I like my poems to reveal non-human life as being instinctually the same as human life; I wish to trounce the misconception that humans are other than nature. Using Graham’s turn, a depiction of non-human life becomes a reflection of qualities/desires/attitudes that are rampant in humans, too.

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