Holding Distance, Grace Wilentz
Green Bottle Press, 2019 £6.00
Craft takes time
On the back of this pamphlet, Shane McCrae talks about ‘waiting for a collection of Grace Wilentz’ poems for over a decade’. This could suggest that Wilentz has a particularly slow work rate (or a very busy life). But it probably means these poems are slow-cooked, hewn, or sanded down over time. At first I was reluctant to use the adjective ‘crafted’ because it conjures up all kinds of issues and definitions. However, there’s a rich seam of poems here involving construction and craft and also the idea of these things being passed on — so ‘crafted’, in this case, feels justified.
The crafting starts from the get-go in ‘Cat’s Cradle’:
With a loop of string
hands make figures.
Each variation’s simple geometry
tracing its way back to the Cat’s Cradle —
an even number of taut lines
hinting at a basket,
a shallow trough.
Further examples include ‘Hand, Writing’, where our protagonist learns to write through the repetition of a task:
I continued this task of tracing the letter,
below the blackboard with
yesterday’s lesson swept into swirls
by a wet sponge.
And in ‘Luthier in the Forest’ we’re told that:
To make a fine instrument
is a good timber,
come from a tree
that struggled to grow.
In ‘Coral Castle’ we meet ‘Demented Ed’ and his ‘array of coral slabs, / arranged into henges and dolmens’. The poem hints at this castle being built in the name of an unrequited love, but there’s redemption in the act of construction:
Still, he knew the lightness that is possible,
as when a pockmarked slab of coral,
that once gave some shelter in a changing ocean,
hefts its own tonne weight,
scrapes itself loose,
floats effortless as the ouija’s planchette,
and hovers impossibly up from beneath the waves,
beginning its crossing to stand upon the shore.
Perhaps a decade seems a long time to wait for a set of poems, but their crafting is impressive. The imagery is clear and visual, the line breaks deliberate and carefully placed. The instruments are fine. The time investment has paid off.