Runaway: New Poems

Ecco: HarperCollins. Sept. 2020. 96p. ISBN 9780063036703. $26.99. POETRY
Pulitzer Prize winner Graham’s poems are like those of John Donne and E.E. Cummings but on speed dial. Like Donne, Graham seeks to encounter the metaphysics of everything. Like Cummings, she writes high-spirited lines with little punctuation, which, although confusing, makes the words move fast. Her use of enjambment serves to quicken the pace of these collage-like, metaphysical poems. In addition, most of her poems are long-lined, which make them seem perhaps more difficult than they are. One of the most challenging yet easily the best of the collection, “Sam’s Dream,” arises from a mother speaking to her unborn child and offers an exquisite meditation on the meaning of birth, life, and maternal love. Throughout, Graham’s style relies on ambiguity, mixed metaphors, and repetition (again like Cummings). Her love of wordplay is evident in her title, which implies not just a fugitive (like her father, whom Graham says ran away from his Southern roots) but the out-of-control events the poems chart: climate change, political unrest, her own and her mother’s health problems, and her father’s death.
VERDICT Donne’s phrase “the vale of soul-making,” quoted by Graham in an interview, aptly suggests the terrain of these poems; challenging as they are, many of them seem like prayers. For all poetry fans.
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