“Prayer”-Syntax, Diction, Reversal

Jorie Graham'”Prayer” is the type of structural surprise I hope to apply in my poetry. Her descriptions create an argument that is refuted/complicated in the meditation. After settling into the continuous sentence structure which supports the languid observation of the minnows, I was suprised by the change, not only in sentence structure and diction, but also in the reversal (in the literary sense of opposite expectations) of where imagery was leading me.

Others have posted on sentence structure and Graham’s diction supports the continuous elements we see in syntax. While her lines are broken throughout with commas, modifiers, parentheses, they contain the consistently inconsistent fluidity of the minnow imagery “turning, re-/infolding,/entering and exiting their own unison in unison.” Her use of present participle verb choice like “making,” “sending,” or “finally-arriving” develops the syntax of the continuous. I am propelled forward by this word choice, feeling increasingly sorry for the minnows which cannot “create current” or “freight or sway by/minutest fractions the water’s downdrafts and upswirls.” I am focused enough on my pity for the desperate imitation available to the minnows that I fail to recognize the language working invisibly on me until she states, “this is freedom.” What am I to do with that? “Freedom?,” I think, “This is not imagery of freedom.”

The word choice works directly into my reaction. I am told that each minnow is a “miniscule muscle” without individual identity or creative powers and furthermore they are set in a landscape of “deeper resistance” and uncontrollable forces. After “this is freedom,” the present participle is less active and the succession of short sentences breaks the effect of the opening lines. There is still continuous movement, but this is accomplished less through verbs and more through the here it is/not it isn’t statements. What I mean here is harder to explain. It is as if Graham says, “Here is what you want” and “Here is what you get”: “What you get is to be changed.” She writes: “Here, hands full of sand, letting it sift through/in the wind, I look in and say take this.” She offers us constant flux in the act of reading, seeing, imitating and the sort of freedom that we can only accomplish so much in the currents of time and thought. She also shifts from that opening unity into repetitions of “Never” which leave me cut off, separated. The combined crafting of syntax and diction were particularly useful in complicating the philsophy of constance and flux. Graham was able to make me question how I percieve freedom and time by juxtaposing the cyclic and fleeting word choices that transformed the image of the minnows.

One Response to ““Prayer”-Syntax, Diction, Reversal”

  1. karlakelsey Says:

    What a wonderful, careful reading of the poem. This response is a good example of close-looking at language that would both stand up in a literature class (as analysis) and sparks the poetic mind…it certainly has me thinking about the variety of ways to create a turn…and the importance of subtlety. I, too, am taken aback at “freedom” but don’t quite know why until I pause further to consider.

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