cover image Naming the Light: A Week of Years

Naming the Light: A Week of Years

Rosemary Deen. University of Illinois Press, $16.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-252-06572-9

These 44 short essays generally proceed as meditations from Deen's home garden in New York's Catskills mountains. Those that stick close to the daylilies and tomato plants may lose the ungreen-thumbed reader, but others venture to the ridge, the neighbors and the local fauna. These latter display Deen's discerning eye and ear for setting a scene (the veery ""whistling down a rain barrel"") and creating sometimes iconic character sketches. Most essays are ambitious musings that begin with something green and spiral out metaphorically to things cultural. At times, Deen riffs off her connections too hurriedly and esoterically, leaving a reader with a salad of images and literary references that obscure the main point. The best, including the last five essays, follow a well-marked path, have a strong anchoring metaphor or draw emotional power from personal history, as in ""Lens,"" which uses a pair of 1920s eyeglasses that belonged to Deen's mother to examine the mother-daughter bond. The closing essay, ""Theory of Descant,"" leaves all the others behind in its depth and reach. A picture of a heartbreaking scene in Rwanda is described not once but three times, around a moving discourse of what words can do, what is ""unsayable"" and how the effort of writing corresponds to the counterpoint of 14th-century polyphony. Deen is poetry editor of Commonweal and, in her best pieces, she ably translates her ear for poetry into a lyric prose. (Dec.)