‘Picture the world without you in it’ — the opening line of Grace Wilentz’s engaging first collection, The Limit of Light, illustrates the imaginative range of her poetry.
The Limit of Light is a record of experience, a widely lived life. There are poems set in her native New York City, in the Everglades, in Morocco, in the Anasazi villages of the American West and in her adopted country, Ireland. Poems in the voice of her mother undergoing treatment for cancer and others that explore her Jewish heritage. Her succinctness of thought and her epiphanies are evident in ‘In this desert landscape / there is little enough to measure yourself by’ and ‘children are always / at the mercy / of the deal’. In her style and subject matter Grace Wilentz broadens the reach of recent Irish poetry.
The sense life made runs ahead of me —
a wild pony pulling its trap,
a startled child at the reins.
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 Limit of Light] is a welcome reminder of the seasonality of all things.
— Elizabeth McIntosh, The Friday Critique, The Seamus Heaney Centre
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