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Jorie Graham was born in New York City in 1950, the daughter of a journalist and a sculptor. She was raised in Rome, Italy and educated in French schools. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris before attending New York University as an undergraduate, where she studied filmmaking. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa. Graham is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including To 2040 (2023), [To] the Last [Be] Human (2021), Runaway (2018) and FAST (2017) which was shortlisted for the Forward Prize. Her collection PLACE (2012) won the Forward Prize for Best Collection. Her other Carcanet collections include Sea Change (Ecco, 2008), Never (2002), Swarm (2000), and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994, which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
About her work, James Longenbach wrote in the New York Times: "For 30 years Jorie Graham has engaged the whole human contraption — intellectual, global, domestic, apocalyptic — rather than the narrow emotional slice of it most often reserved for poems. She thinks of the poet not as a recorder but as a constructor of experience. Like Rilke or Yeats, she imagines the hermetic poet as a public figure, someone who addresses the most urgent philosophical and political issues of the time simply by writing poems." Graham has also edited two anthologies, Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language (1996) and The Best American Poetry 1990.
Her many honors include a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She has taught at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. She served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003. In 2017 she was awarded the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets.
'What makes her work required reading is her readiness to go where angels fear to write, to do the terrifying work of visualising the future.... Every poem is an attempt at orientation - sometimes within a disorienting void. However considered Graham's revisions, the sense is of being in the moment with her - intimacy the closest thing to consolation.'
Kate Kellaway, The Observer
'Attempting to comment briefly on this visionary commotion is like trying to capture thunder and lightning in a bottle... This is a world beyond humanity, beyond nature, beyond culture, and yet amid the ruins there is the undeniable triumph and power of poetic utterance'
Rachel Hadas, Times Literary Supplement
'From its opening page until its final lines, Graham''s 15th collection of poetry has the heightened urgency of a young writer's debut. True to its title, it hurtles forward. Poems pour forth, frothing and pooling and threatening, at times, to overflow their banks...Runaway feels as though it has been written for right now, especially as we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, but also for a target audience that might emerge 100 years on...'
Jeff Gordinier, New York Times
'Sweeping lines and fractured phrases, ampersands and italics, lines unexpectedly justified right: all of these wake us up to 'the freshness of what's / there.'
Fiona Sampson, The Guardian
'Even when these poems are at their darkest and most purposefully incoherent in terms of voice and tone, there remains a trace of language's ability to seek out, transmit and make visible the impact of the world on the self for others to experience.'
'The reason that poets are addicted to poetry and they write it for a lifetime, is because a poem will permit you to go through life and have an experience you can't have by any other means.'
Jorie Graham talking to Ian McMillan on Radio 3's The Verb, 15 December 2017
'Another striking book from Jorie Graham, and one that frequently reaches fever-pitch in its frantic explosion of the lyric mode. Graham's themes in these poems -ranging through sickness, death and environmental crises -would rattle any reader, and her long lines, clamouring fragments and sprawling chorus of voices increase this effect to a dramatic extent. These are urgent, stressed and stressful poems that produce a panicked motion-sickness as you spiral through them. This is an important, desperate and, at times, frightening, book that truly captures the tone of contemporary times.'
The Poetry School Books of the Year 2017
'In FAST, [Graham's] subject is mortality - her own (she was diagnosed with cancer five years ago), her parents', that of intellect and culture (in dementia, in digital overwhelm), that of the planet. It is a collection of sensual poems so urgent that, by the end, they have abandoned traditional beginnings and are physically bunched up on the right-hand side of the page. And through it all, an unwavering, serious belief in the power of poetry, a repeatedly inhabited rejection of Auden's assertion that poetry makes nothing happen.'
'Fast might immerse us in monstrous acts of environmental and political violence, our obsession with progress, money, and our own individualistic, virtual worlds, but what still succeeds is the wish to live on. Perhaps if we were to listen to that wish we might, amongst all the acceleration, stop and think again.'
- The London Magazine
'One of the finest poets writing today.'
'She is among the most important poets in North American literature today.'
Peyton Brien, University of Toronto, 1995
'Jorie Graham is a poet of staggering intelligence.'
'There is a buoyancy in Graham's poetry, a freshness of vision which is rare in contemporary poetry.'
Roger Caldwell, Times Literary Supplement, 27th June 2003
'After each new book by Graham, I wonder what she will do next. Her courage in remaking her style over the years is exemplary... to read under Graham's powerful impetus is to have one's consciousness, like molten glass, pulled into unforeseen - and sometimes almost unbearable - shapes.'
Helen Vendler, London Review of Books, 23rd January 2003
'...one of our most highly imaginative and innovative poets. Her speculative and sensual poetry echoes an aesthetic and cultural past but is, truly, like nothing we've seen before.'
David St. John, The Los Angeles Times, 1996
'There are erotic poems, elegiac poems, and there are dauntingly difficult, allusive and even impenetrable poems. Throughout there is a powerful, engaging intelligence and an affirming lyric grace.'
Stephen Matterson on The Errancy, in Poetry Ireland Review, vol. 62
'Like all good poets, she illuminates moments, but she is like no one else, neither in her rhythms, nor in her insistence on opening up, scrutinizing, and even reversing our experience of time and space within these moments.'
Stephen Burt, Times Literary Supplement, 17th May 1996
'Graham shows us a future direction in American poetry, and that future is a welcome place.'
The Harvard Review
'A mesmerising American voice; one wants to hear its continuation.'
Helen Vendler, The New Yorker
Awards won by Jorie Graham Winner, 2023 The Laurel Prize
(To 2040) Commended, 2022 A Poetry Book Society Autumn Special Commendation
([To] the Last [Be] Human) Short-listed, 2021 The ASLE-UKI Book Prize for Ecological Writing
(Runaway) Short-listed, 2020 The Neustadt International Prize for Literature
(Fast) Winner, 2018 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry (Fast) Winner, 2012 Forward Prize for Best Collection (PLACE) Winner, 2017 Wallace Stevens Award for Lifetime Achievement Commended, 2017 Poetry Book Society Recommendation.
(Fast) Winner, 1996 Pulitzer Prize
(The Dream of the Unified Field) Short-listed, 2012 T S Eliot Prize () Short-listed, 2012 Forward Poetry Prize for Best Collection ()
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