Where Intellect and Intuition Converge: Epistemological Errancies in the Poetry of Jorie Graham

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Virginia Tech


Over the past two decades, American poet Jorie Graham has composed six books of poems. Graham struggles to understand how we make sense of the world through thinking grounded in the logical operations of reason and through thinking that operates as more of a detached wandering that enables direct experiential participation in the present moment-modes of thought occasionally differentiated as "intellect" and "intuition." Throughout her work, Graham repeatedly experiments with ways to "frustrate" the intellect in order for intuition to wander over an idea while at the same time she relies on the intellect to rescue the mind from directionless wandering. In her early poetry Graham explores ways of defining and describing what it feels like to think. Later, she enacts thinking within the lines of her poems, sometimes allegorizing the operation of the intellect and intuition and sometimes provoking readers into an experience of one particular way of thinking through the act of reading.

This study examines Graham's various successes and failures as she struggles to discover "blossoming" moments of balance between the controlling intellect and the wandering intuition. Beginning with the origins of this line of thinking in Graham's early work, this study traces the poet's path of development through each book of poems in order to demonstrate the back and forth momentum shifts of intellect giving way to intuition and intuition being organized by rational thought. Through her epistemological errancies, her wanderings within and without ways of knowing, Graham discovers "blossoming" moments of wholeness where both modes of thought meet "in solution, unsolved."



Twentieth Century poetry, American poetry