“Indeed the tulips \ change tense \ too quickly. \ They open and fly off. \ And, holding absolutes \ at bay, the buds \ tear through the fruit trees, \ steeples into sky,” –Jorie Graham’s “Strangers”
I purchased Jorie Graham’s “Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts” after drooling over it in a bookstore in Saratoga for an inappropriately long time. I felt that if I had already taken out my notebook and penned countless lines that gave me poetic aneurysms (whilst dog-earing nearly every page), the book deserved to be given some consistent shelter and love. Jorie’s poetry has continued to reach into the furthest corners of my mind through lofty and complex ideas that I still have yet to fully process. What I admire most, however, is her sometimes subtle and sometimes abrasive use of sound to carry these complexities to term.
I typically consider sound to be a means of transport, a way of emphasizing and extending meaning by carrying certain sounds throughout a piece (think the importance of s in Keats’ ‘”To Autumn.”) When done correctly, sonic elements in a poem can carry a heavier weight than the actual “content” or argument of the piece (though I would argue that, at times, sound itself is the provided argument). The reappearing t in “Strangers” makes the first three lines echoes of themselves, carrying us with it until we reach “steeples,” where the t‘s have suddenly formed into a place of worship. Due to the repetition, however, we don’t blindly walk into the glass door of the steeple; we have seen it on the horizon since we were given the map.
There is a linkage of ideas, no matter the distance, when sound is utilized. We can connect “bay” to “buds,” but we can also connect “tulips” to “through” to “fruit.”
With sound serving to transport and manipulate meaning, we are offered a beautiful platter of impossibilities: tulips rearrange themselves into a steeple and “quickly” becomes the sky behind it.