“Pilar Christiana Graham’s poetry is the music of mermaids singing. Following their currents, we hear silences, and we hear sounds. We’re taken to sea-places. And now and again, we land. Beautiful. True.”
Maxine Hong Kingston
Maxine Hong Kingston was given the National Humanities Medal by President Clinton, and the National Medal of Arts by President Obama.
Graham discovers in the quiet moments of these poems, something of herself. This collection of poems is deeply internal and reflective. There is work with repetition. The poems call back and forth the larger themes and also some surprising smaller ones like that of pressing – bar of ink to stone – and the grind, or the glass rectangle of a microscope slide. I wanted to sit in silence to imagine the crack and squeak of that little glass breaking. The poems are broken and mended in the reading. Here, an accident or an intentional sliding of glass to learn to see the minutiae, and then a thump to wake us up with shock:
“Look for her, with microscope in hand. Glass slides press on mother’s spit; this is life inside the colors,[…]”
“An imprint of a bird is on my window. It smashed its body, thump! Feathers have flattened between me and glass. Outside there is nothing dead found, only me.”
This is what it was like for me to read Currents, I was moving to an internal rhythm –the water, the boat, the hills, and hollows –rise and fall. And it is part travel notes – the places skipped and noticed, for a glance. Graham writes about locals and meanderings, moving, becoming lost: “There are different ways to drift, all which require my full attention.”
There is drive in water and the vessels of water but this is not a destination, this is an end. This is not reciprocity, this is reaching out to nothing –. Graham observes keenly how the loss takes its toll, and with plenty of warnings. And the body rectifying itself from loss, the detritus of our habits and rituals – the vacuum as metaphor for space and distance, the tissue as symbol for sky and moving upward:
“At the church, I empty the wastebaskets, in counseling rooms, carry bags of tissue clouds, and toss a white sky into the dumpster[.]”
This is where I find myself in her poetry, part rhythm, part image, and ultimately I see through the clarity of her lines like a narrative crusted over with sea salt. Currents is something to read, to sense, and to witness:
“Coral reefs are ancient inhabitants of the sea. These ancient reefs, thousands of years old, have become skeletons in an underwater graveyard. Some Internet searches inquire if it’s still worth it, and if it’s still something one should take the time to see.”
Marisol Baca, Author of Tremor, Poet Laureate 2019 – 2021
Currents presents like an intricate and sensuous poetic logbook of an interesting woman’s life journey over fraught waters of experience and discovery. It navigates the ebb and flow of senses, spirit, and feeling, through calm and tempest, from maiden voyage to foundering of a mother vessel, with crisp, charged images that surprise and provoke–an admirably rewarding read!
C. Lok Chua – Professor of English, CSU Fresno and National University of Singapore, Author, Editor, and Fulbright Scholar
“This collection of poems sweeps past the boundaries of body and landscape, pointing to the problem of language to explore those things that we hold most dear: intimacy, memory, the discovery of the self. Moving from coast to coast, the poems are of Atlantic storms and California droughts. What does it mean to be embodied? To be placed in this world? Here, among and between these lines, Graham both seeks and repels the self in carefully constructed verse that rewards the reader’s return again and again.”
Penel Alden – Poet. Author of California: Poems
I think sometimes we ground the sense of home in a specific place, yet Pilar’s volume, Currents, reminds us that home is embodied, present, and fluid. Like the motif of ocean currents that runs throughout Pilar’s poems, the past ebbs and flows in our consciousness, sometimes so clearly related to emotion and experience and sometimes only evident upon reflection.
Kathleen Godfrey, Ph.D. – CSU Monterey Bay –
College of Arts, Humanities, and Sciences.