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Daring to Live in the Details

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jorie Graham finds her voice somewhere between the intuited and the observed

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Poet Jorie Graham says she is never far from a sense of herself as a "reporter" and of her writing as "a kind of news." As a child, the 1996 Pulitzer Prize-winner for poetry grew up in the border country between the realities of journalism and the verities of art.

So while Ms. Graham remembers her father, the Rome bureau chief for Newsweek magazine, leaving home to cover wars in distant and dangerous places, she was also influenced by her artist mother, who introduced her to the frescoes of Giotto, Piero della Francesca, and other Renaissance masters that adorn the Italian capital's basilicas.

"I understood that news was not only important, it was mortal and critical," she says of her father's work. Yet "the stories on the walls of the church are [also] news," she adds, "crucial news that continues to be news."

Born in New York City in 1950, Graham grew up entirely in Rome, where she attended the French lyce (secondary school) there. She was fluent in Italian and French when she arrived at New York University (NYU) in 1969, but spoke only "broken English." A film student at the time, Graham had no aspirations toward poetry the day she was called to her vocation.

Raised, as she puts it, at "an intersection of secular and sacred versions of reality," Graham's own art presents a view that "trills or slurs" between opposing forces - public and private, observed and intuited, evanescent and eternal.

Graham won this year's Pulitzer Prize for "The Dream of the Unified Field" (The Ecco Press, 1995), a selection of poems spanning 20 years and five previous books. The winner of a 1990 MacArthur Foundation grant, she lives with her husband and daughter in Iowa City, where she teaches at the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop.

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