cover image 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.)