Scriptorium

Melissa Range. Beacon, $18 (112p) ISBN 978-0-8070-9444-0
Range (Horse and Rider) titles her linguistically graceful and formally exquisite second collection after the room in a medieval monastery that was dedicated to textual transcription. If Range’s book is that room replete with texts, the central text is the Lindisfarne Gospels, an illuminated eighth-century manuscript of the Gospels transcribed by a monk named Eadfrith. Range frequently returns to the Lindisfarne Gospels and the bizarre methods of procuring the pigments necessary for its illumination: a yellow of “arsenic and sulfur,” purple from a snail’s glandular secretions, a crimson of the crushed worm’s eggs from which it takes its name. The document is an effective muse for Range’s imaginative talents, with its “letters traced upon the riven/ calf-skin gleams dark as fresh ash on a shriven/ penitent.” Her historical engagements extend beyond the medieval, however, including references to the 18th-century fire that damaged the original Beowulf manuscript, Navajo talking code used during WWII, Celtic queen Boudicca’s first-century rebellion against the Romans, and a smattering of Old English vocabulary. Range weaves in her own Appalachian history, where “the heart// of the Lord is a seam of coal gouged out/ to fuel the light in other places.” In less gifted hands, the mix of forms and source material could prove too much to handle, but Range’s poise shines throughout. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 12/05/2016
Release date: 10/01/2016
Ebook - 978-0-8070-9445-7
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