Sunday 7 May 2023

Review by Jo Dixon of "To 2040" by Jorie Graham

Jorie Graham’s latest collection, To 2040, follows close behind [To] The Last [Be] Human (2022), a tetralogy composed of four earlier collections, spanning 2002 to 2020. Both collections, published by Carcanet, immerse the reader in a world on the brink of collapse, but also a world that still holds wonder for its inhabitants. Robert Macfarlane’s introduction to [To] The Last [Be] Human suggests that the task of the poems in the tetralogy ‘are of record as well as of warning,’ a description that holds true for To 2040

Graham’s political / personal odes in this collection elevate the environmental crisis of the near future and the crisis of her own illness. Often, destruction and beauty co-exist within a few lines: 

         Breathe. Yes 
         the drought is everywhere out there
         but in the night

        the stems of stars mist-up
        just enough for u to recall
        when there was 
        humanity, humidity, & the stars

        dangle, sting. Ah there is
        no return 
        is there.

(‘Dusk in Drought’).

Even as the stars stir our hearts, we are stung by knowing that this is just a memory. Tellingly, there is no question mark here, our fate is sealed: ‘there is no return / is there.’ Yet this is not a collection of unrelenting gloom. The poems are invigorating in their formal inventiveness and precise use of language. The surprising lineation, extension of white space, erosion of words (you/u) and accretion of phrases have the effect of tuning us into Graham’s mind; we follow her thoughts as she wrestles with our wilful destruction of the earth, shot through with images of hope. The closing lines of the final poem, ‘Then the Rain,’ encourage us to ‘touch, touch it all,’ and in this last act of connectedness, Graham hints at a way back. 

About the reviewer
Jo Dixon’s collection, Purl, was published in 2020 by Shoestring Press. Her poetry and flash fiction appears in a range of journals and anthologies. She is Lecturer in Creative Writing at De Montfort University, Leicester, and lives in Nottingham.

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