John Graham-Pole

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry and Art


In the Foreword to this collection, poet John Graham-Pole writes, "Children have uncovered for me the last and greatest lesson: souls thriving on failing at bigger and bigger things" (xvii). The heroes of these poems are just such children, transformed by serious illness. For example, Dominic in "Waiting" who "rests on his airbubble cot / awaiting life’s flight from its earthly beat" (10); Ruby in "Ruby Red": "And so poor Ruby meets her final test, in gentle hemolysis rolled to res" (35); the lovely young woman in "Elegy": "You’re newly dead, sans wig, / seventeen year old virgin whom / I’d loved." (57).

"I try through writing poems to lay a finger on the purpose of illness, on its pulse .  . Poems turn denial and withdrawal into compassion--feeling with. They turn fear into mercy--thank you" (xvii). The poet’s eye remains dispassionate, even though his heart may be breaking, as in "Last Rites" (32), in which a dead toddler’s father and his companion "sluice down the flooring with their hoses. After the vomit and blood the water runs clear." He understands the limits of communication about loss, but recognizes, too, that we must make the attempt; and the attempt has meaning in itself: "Afterward the circles of our talk / snap . . . - Within, we write our / separate texts of it. Between, the tension / stands: this no talk could break." ("Circles," p. 87)

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