cover image Lighting the Shadow

Lighting the Shadow

Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Four Way (UPNE, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-935536-57-4

"I wish I were like Johnny Cash/ & thought my heart was mine," declares poet and visual artist Griffiths (Mule & Pear), in her fourth collection. It%E2%80%99s a brassier moment for this lush and lyrical volume, throughout which reverberates the question of the limits of individual autonomy. Occasional, often elegiac poems arise from moments when the sense of a contained self is destabilized by an external force. The poet%E2%80%99s own materials, Griffiths reminds readers, do not belong to her alone. "My memory/ was a painted mast, filled/ with the inviolate breath/ of what history/ can blow apart," she writes, recalling the original meaning of inspiration, whereby a person receives a divine breath, while shifting it to a more earthly domain. Her ambitious "New World," a longer poem that reckons with the legacy of American industry and dreams of material ascension, identifies and gives shape to specters at work in the present, culminating in a tribute to "Broken wheelbarrows of men/ forming flags, waving the spokes, the unspoken/ labor. The violence of course." Yet, as expansive and outward-looking as Griffiths%E2%80%99s poems are in their subject matter, they are metabolized through the personal and unified by a continuous speaker, one whose "voice is a gold streetlamp corroded by ghost moths." (Apr.)