Jorie Graham’s Prayer

In Prayer, Jorie Graham uses a number of tools to affectively show the poem turning.  One of these is a dramatic change in sentence structure. The poem begins with a focus on minnows.  The lines, which are long and formed almost as sentences, with the line break at the margin, seem to run together in the opening section.  They are separated by commas and hyphens only; there are very few periods.  This allows the reader to see the lines as flowing into one another, as a series of interconnected ideas.  This is most notable when the poem is read aloud, because it is difficult to know where the pauses are and tempting to read it all as one long sentence.

The second half of the poem, when the contextual focus shifts to a metaphorical description of the minnows as people, is markedly different.  Instead of lines that seem interconnected, every idea is separated by a period, so that each stands on its own. This change affects the sound of poem most notably. This change in rhythm forces the reader to focus on each idea separately. This allows the lines to impact the reader in a way that the structure of the first half does not.

Graham’s use of such dramatic change in form and sentence structure is a highly effective tool, especially when combined with other elements she uses, such as metaphor. This particular device makes the change visibly striking as well as within the content and sound of the piece. Graham’s skill in employing structure in this specific poem really helps me to look at structure in my own work.

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