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[To] the Last [Be] Human
Categories: 21st Century, American, Women
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Paperback (336 pages)
(Pub. Sep 2022)
A Poetry Book Society Special Commendation Autumn 2022[To] The Last [Be] Human collects four extraordinary poetry books—Sea Change, PLACE, fast, and Runaway—by Pulitzer Prize winner Jorie Graham.
From the introduction by Robert Macfarlane:
The earliest of the poems in this tetralogy were written at 373 parts per million of atmospheric CO2, and the most recent at 414 parts per million; that is to say, in the old calendar, 2002 and 2020 respectively. The body of work gathered here stands as an extraordinary lyric record of those eighteen calamitous years: a glittering, teeming Anthropocene journal, rife with hope and raw with loss, lush and sparse, hard to parse and hugely powerful to experience. Graham's poems are turned to face our planet's deep-time future, and their shadows are cast by the long light of the will-have-been. But they are made of more durable materials than granite and concrete, and their tasks are of record as well as warning: to preserve what it has felt like to be a human in these accelerated years when "the future / takes shape / too quickly", when we are entering "a time / beyond belief". They know, these poems, and what they tell is precise to their form... Sometimes they are made of ragged, hurting, hurtling, and body-fleeing language; other times they celebrate the sheer, shocking, heart-stopping gift of the given world, seeing light, tree, sea, skin, and star as a "whirling robe humming with firstness".
To read these four twenty-first-century books together in a single volume is to experience vastly complex patterns forming and reforming in mind, eye, and ear. These poems sing within themselves, between one another, and across collections, and the song that joins them all is uttered simply in the first lines of the last poem of the last book:
The earth said
The earth said
don't let go,
said it one day
when I was
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 ()
'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
Praise for Jorie Graham 'This is an urgent, vivacious book based in stark reality but written with craft and beauty.'
Maria Crawford, Financial Times
'To 2040 is a collection to be experienced in all its movements and formations. It articulates the collective undercurrents of our consciousness, leading us beyond the brinks of our experience, flooding us with existential concerns and threats. To 2040 further cements the might of Jorie Graham's poetic work and her immense, oracular vision, which is as astonishing as it is necessary.'
Neha Mulay, The Adroit Journal
'Graham is adept at this kind of philosophical, or, indeed neo-scientific, display... The result is blistering and overwhelming, a clear depiction of our extreme, accelerating existence.'
Kate Simpson, The Poetry Review
'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 Grahamâs mind; we follow her thoughts as she wrestles with our wilful destruction of the earth, shot through with images of hope.'
Jo Dixon, Everybody's Reviewing
'The American writer's visionary 15th collection is one of her best books yet. These luminous poems consider the importance of attending to the wisdom nature offers us... A profound engagement with how our thinking about nature might change, and transform us in the process.'
Rebecca Tamás, The Guardian
'Of the many questions put throughout Jorie Graham's stunning new collection, To 2040, the first is the most urgent: "Are we / extinct yet."...The common shape of poems here is a precisely unbalanced four-line stanza: seldom do lines and phrases match, sentences spill across lines. It is the flow of intellect, the mind at work.'
Stephen Sexton, Irish Times
'In her new book, Graham's poems continue to exhort us to be present, and she has found a startlingly intimate way of situating an individual consciousness among its precarious cohabitants.'
Walt Hunter, The Atlantic
'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
'Runaway, Jorie Graham's expansive new book, insistently tunes us to the human urgency for wholeness, for the meanings of embodiment in a time when some of us/are murdered, and some of have mouths that keep saying yes.'
Forrest Gander, New York Times
'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
'We should be grateful to Jorie Graham for her own heroics of perception, even if they show up our ordinary insight. If we can't see, with Graham, "the spots where the birds must eventually land", at least we know now where we should be looking.'
Gwyneth Lewis, Times Literary Supplement. 'Graham's best book in at least a decade.'
Publishers Weekly 'The poems in Jorie Graham's Sea Change might look unapproachable but they are models of clarity and purity.'
Nicola Smyth, 'Books of the Year', the Independent, 28 December 2008
'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
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