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Jorie Graham (born May 9, 1950) is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. The U.S. Poetry Foundation suggests "She is perhaps the most celebrated poet of the American post-war generation". She replaced poet Seamus Heaney as Boylston Professor at Harvardmarker, becoming the first woman to be awarded this position.

Books and Awards

Jorie Graham is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including her most recent, Sea Change (Ecco, 2008). She has also edited two anthologies, Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language (1996) and The Best American Poetry 1990. She is widely anthologized and her poetry is the subject of many essays, including Jorie Graham: Essays on the Poetry; Edited by Thomas Gardner (2005). Graham's 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. The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994 won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003, and she currently sits on the contributing editorial board to the literary journal Conjunctions.


Jorie Graham was born in New York Citymarker in 1950 to Curtis Bill Pepper, a war correspondent and the head of the Rome bureau for Newsweek magazine, and the sculptor Beverly Stoll Pepper (born December 20, 1924, Brooklynmarker, New Yorkmarker). She was raised in Romemarker, Italymarker. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonnemarker, but was expelled for participating in student protests. She completed her undergraduate work as a film major at New York Universitymarker, and became interested in poetry during that time. (She claims that her interest was sparked while walking past M.L. Rosenthal's classroom and overhearing the last couplet of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" ). After working as a secretary, she later went on to receive her Master of Fine Arts from the famed Iowa Writers' Workshopmarker.

Graham has held a longtime faculty position at the Iowa Writers' Workshopmarker, and has held an appointment at Harvard Universitymarker since 1999. Graham replaced Nobel Laureate and poet Seamus Heaney as Boylston professor in Harvard's Department of English and American Literature and Language. She became the first woman to be awarded this position. .

Graham was married to and divorced from publishing heir William Graham, brother of Donald E. Graham, now publisher of the Washington Post. She then married the poet James Galvin in 1983 and they divorced in 1999. She married poet Peter M. Sacks, a colleague at Harvard, in 2000.


Her relationship to Sacks was briefly a source of controversy. In January 1999, she judged the University of Georgiamarker Contemporary Poetry series contest, which selected the manuscript "O Wheel" from Peter Sacks as the first place winner. Graham noted that, at the time she and Ramke awarded the prize, she had not yet married Sacks, and that while she had "felt awkward" about the award, she had first cleared it with the series editor, Bin Ramke, who made the actual award. As a result of the critical coverage from and elsewhere, Ramke resigned from the editorship of the series. Graham subsequently announced that she would no longer serve as a judge in contests, although as of 2008 she continues to do so. Throughout the course of the contest, Ramke had insisted that judges of the contest be kept secret, and until obtained the names of judges via The Open Records Act, the conflict of interest had been undisclosed. The University of Georgia Press now discloses the names of its poetry judges, who "are instructed to avoid conflicts of interest of all kinds.". A statement now adopted in the rules of many competitions (including the University of Georgia Contest) to prevent judges from selecting students is often referred to as the "Jorie Graham rule".

The Foetry site also contended that Graham, as a judge at Georgia and other contests, had awarded prizes to at least five of her former students from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Graham's reply to this was that over years of teaching she has had over 1400 students, many of whom went on to continue writing poetry, that no rules had prohibited her from awarding prizes to former students, and that in each case she claims to have selected the strongest work.

Selected Poems

Prayer [129779]

Salmon [129780]

San Sepolcro [129781]

Spoken from the Hedgerows [129782]


Selected reviews of Graham's 2005 book of poetry, Overlord

William Logan, The New Criterion, June 2005

Graham has reduced the poetry of meditation to navel-gazing; the minute attention to her nattering thoughts, to the violence of her vision (at one point she gets down to photon level), merely reworks, in stilted fashion, the stream of consciousness Dorothy Richardson pursued in the Twenties. If Graham had concentrated on the accident and contingency of war, had honored the men whose deaths she casually invokes, Overlord might have become the sort of serious meditation that produced Geoffrey Hill’s Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy...Graham’s lack of any sense of proportion reduces the argument of Overlord to something like “On the one hand, my kitty has AIDS; on the other, a whole lot of guys died on Omaha Beach.” (If you think the poet can stoop no lower, that her high-mindedness can’t be more unintentionally hilarious, you haven’t read the poem in which she buys a homeless man a meal and practically kills him.)...Almost everything Graham writes offers the swagger of emotion, pretentiousness by the barrelful, and a wish for originality that approaches vanity—she’s less a poet than a Little Engine that Could, even when it Can’t.

Publishers Weekly (US), 24 January 2005

The title for Graham's best book in at least a decade introduces several obsessions at once: it's the code name for American plans on D-Day, a sign for the absence - or perhaps presence - of an omnipotent God, and a term for arrogant nations (the US among them) who have forgotten, or never learned, the lessons of the Greatest Generation. Graham, who won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for The Dream of the Unified Field, pursues familiar metaphysical questions through the long lines and longer sentences of meditations such as 'Upon Emergence': "Have I that to which to devote my / self? Have I devotion?"; a series of poems with the title 'Praying' take the question to its ends, often ending up angry, guilty or shocked. One anecdotal poem depicts her trying and failing to feed a homeless man; a more abstract effort imagines "a horrible labyrinth, this / history of ours. No / opening." Most striking of all are works closely tied to D-Day, to Normandy (where Graham now spends part of each year) and to servicemen's own testimony, which casts contemporary fears into ironic relief: "Are you at war or at peace," Graham asks, "or are war and peace / playing their little game over your dead body?" The vague, notebook-like qualities of Graham's last few efforts baffled some admirers, who will likely, and rightly, see these clear and powerful poems as a return to form.

Library Journal, February 2005

Graham's ninth poetry collection is arguably her most impassioned, if not anxious, meditation on the nature of human presence and the possibility of belief in a diminished, fallen world where "The aim is to become / something broken / that cannot be broken further." Frenetic, one-sided conversations with a God or gods ("Your god might be the wrong one for the circumstances") sweep across the width of the page in long, self-questioning, and self-answering waves, as if the poet's mind were possessed by a relentless insomnia. Tracing the metaphysical scar tissue between raw desire to locate meaning and validation in the physical universe ("It's me I shout to the tree outside the window / don't you know it's me, a me") and the urge to withdraw ("We can pull back / from the being of our bodies...we can be absent, no one can tell."). But the crisis of selfhood is a difficult subject to manage, and Graham's cascading ruminations can turn too theatrical and self-conscious ("Every morning now I am putting these words down / in the place of other words"), as the poet cannot escape the knowledge that her private Gethsemene is, in fact, a public garden. Recommended for academic library poetry collections.

Donna Seaman, BooklistStarred Review

In her previous books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Dream of the Unified Field (1995), Graham explores the divide between perception and reality. In her stunning ninth collection, she is still an agile metaphysician, but her poetic self now kneels with her face in her hands, humbled by illness, war, and the ravaged earth. Forthright, compassionate, and ironic, Graham has crafted poems of lyrical steeliness and cauterizing beauty. The book's title refers to "Operation Overlord," the Allied offensive that culminated in the landing on Normandy's Omaha Beach, and that, for Graham, inspired exquisite and devastating tributes to soldiers. She then links the past to the grim post-9/11 present, where one god is pitted against another, a taxicab ride reveals a tangle of cultural conflicts and personal tragedies, and environmental decimation looms. Graham writes with breathtaking precision about the helplessness one feels in the face of suffering, but because "we cannot ask another to live / without hope," and because the poet's "great desire to praise" remains undaunted, Graham takes up the pen not only to eulogize but also to express "gratitude for the trees / and the birds they house.

David Orr, New York Times

"There's always been something strangely bleary in Graham's writing -- as if she's just noticed something interesting and motioned the reader over, only to stand in his light, blocking his view with her own viewing. This tendency has become more pronounced as Graham has grown older; in recent books, she achieves an arty vagueness that has to be (barely) seen to be believed."

Other selected reviews

'There is a buoyancy in Graham's poetry, a freshness of vision which is rare in contemporary poetry.'Roger Caldwell, Times Literary Supplement, (UK) 27 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.'Helen Vendler, London Review of Books, (UK) 23 January 2003. (Vendler is a colleague of Graham's at Harvard Universitymarker.)

' 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.



  • Sea Change (2008)
  • Overlord (2005)
  • Never (2002)
  • Swarm (2000)
  • Photographs and Poems (1998; with Jeanette Montgomery Barron)
  • The Errancy (1997)
  • The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994 (1995)
  • Materialism (1993)
  • Region of Unlikeness (1991)
  • The End of Beauty (1987)
  • Erosion (1983)
  • Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts (1980)

Edited anthologies

  • Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language (1997)
  • The Best American Poetry 1990 (1990)

Selected scholarship

  • Jorie Graham: Essays on the Poetry; Edited by Thomas Gardner (2005)

  • No Image There and the Gaze Remains: The Visual in the Work of Jorie Graham; by Catherine Karaguezian (2005)

  • Regions of Unlikeness: Explaining Contemporary Poetry; by Thomas Gardner (1999)

  • The Breaking of Style: Hopkins, Heaney, Graham; by Helen Vender (1995)

Additional Links


  4. David Orr, "ON POETRY; Jorie Graham, Superstar," 'New York Times Sunday Book Review, April 24, 2005; available at the Time website (accessed March 16 2008_
  5. Tomas Alex Tizon, "In Search of Poetic Justice," Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2005. Available at the LA Times (subscription needed). Text is available at New Poetry Review or SFgate (accessed 16 March 2007)
  6. Kevin Larimer, "The Contester: Who's Doing What to Keep Them Clean", Poets & Writers Magazine, July/August 2005. Formerly available at Poets and Writers (page currently offline)
  7. archive
  8. Thomas Bartlett, "Rhyme and Unreason," Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 2005, available here (accessed March 16 2005)
  9. John Sutherland, "American foetry," The Guardian, Monday July 4, 2005 the Guardian
  10. Graham has been selected to judge the 2008 "Discovery"/Boston Review 2008 Poetry Contest. The deadline was January 18, 2008.
  11. Alex Beam, "Website polices rhymes and misdemeanors," Boston Globe, March 31, 2005, available here
  12. Foetry page on Jorie Graham

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