The Current Situation

         In her poem “Prayer,” Jorie Graham is utilizing what is arguably an extensive set of poetic tools to move from her description of a school of minnows to a meditation on human powerlessness.  Perhaps, of this set of tools, however, Graham uses punctuation most prominently.  Her use of punctuation, in addition to facilitating the turn, also influences the visual and aural effects of her poem.  The whole first half of her poem, prior to the turn, is appropriately one long, flowing sentence – a constant current of words.   In this poetic current she describes how the minnows, in reality powerless in that they are “without the way to create current,” combine, “making of their unison…a visual current.”  The flowing, constant nature of her words works in perfect harmony with this description.  Additionally, as this singular flowing sentence is not interrupted by capital letters, it flows visually like a current to the eye as well – and to the ear, as the reader does not stop to punctuate Graham’s stream of expression. 

         The turn in “Prayer” is emotionally jarring; Jorie reaches the ironic line “this is freedom” and begins punctuating her poetry to create short, abrupt sentences.  The beautiful, even serene, imagery of the first section of the poem, describing the flowing current of minnows is countered by a harsh realization of helplessness, vocalized in lines colorless in comparison: “This is the force of faith.  Nobody gets what they want.  Never again are you the same…”.  Graham does not abandon her beautiful, flowing imagery, but it has taken on a contrary purpose when she writes, “More and more by each glistening minute, through which infinity threads itself, also oblivion, of course, the aftershocks of something at sea.”  Her combined images of the sea and of thread, something flowing and continuous, create a picture of flowing helplessness, of an out-of-control current in which the speaker, a member of the group of “nobody”s who cannot get what they want, is swept away under the guise of “freedom.”  Additionally, the capital letters beginning each of her new sentences create a visually (and aurally) choppy effect, destroying the metaphorical current previously suggested by her words on the page.

         I find Graham’s turn highly effective.  Reading the first part of the poem, I am completely immersed in her description, in her current of words.  Her punctuated stylistic shift from the poem’s turn wakes me immediately from my reader’s trance, feeling almost helpless myself waiting for a restoration of flow, of current, and then realizing the negative implications of this current.  I would like to be able to harness Graham’s skill in crafting turn and thus add more depth to my own writing – which most of time I feel is translated pretty sloppily, formlessly, and lacking in structure from my ideas.


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