The Seamus Heaney Centre are putting fast, short-form, reviews of new writing into the world on a weekly basis. This week, Elizabeth McIntosh reviews Grace Wilentz’s The Limit of Light.
“‘The line is the line,’ writes Grace Wilentz in The Limit of Light, her first full-length collection published last autumn by The Gallery Press, ‘sometimes it runs without stopping — // it’s a different line if you stop’.
Wilentz’s poems trace this line through rituals that move the reader ‘through to a new feeling’ (‘A year with Two Springs’), whether that be learning string shapes in the game ‘Cat’s Cradle’, or the spine ‘curling and uncurling’ in ‘The Lioness’ and also in yoga, where it’s power lies in ‘making space within the body’ (‘The Story of My Neck’). In ‘Alsace Shabbat’ she writes ‘you longed/ for ritual and place — why you needed the candles — on a night/ when there were no candles around.// So you made some from the wax that coated the cheese’. The most ordinary of objects are transformed by the light cast on them in the poems—bolts of cloth become the robes of a queen, dried beans an offering, the body a source of light. Wilentz’s careful image-making celebrates everyday moments, imbuing them with meaning until they become expansive, filling in absences where things were lost.
The collection comforts through Wilentz’s unflinching acknowledgement of life’s darkness. She writes about her mother’s cancer treatments and bereavement. In ‘Belly of the Whale’, Wilentz recounts the story of Jonah in words that are easy to relate to in the grief that isolates so many of us throughout life, especially now: ’After days/ of not speaking to anyone,/ the sound of my voice/ echoes back to me/ like the voice of a stranger.’ But rather than feeling mired in this darkness, I found in it ‘a landscape where I could begin to grieve’ (as she writes in the collection’s titular poem). Grounded in the ceremonies and stories of Wilentz’s Jewish heritage, the collection is a welcome reminder of the seasonality of all things.”
— Elizabeth McIntosh, The Friday Critique, The Seamus Heaney Centre