I begin to ask, what on this earth does not exist because of the transformation of language? And couldn’t the same be said for light? could light be responsible for the writing of light and, therefore, also its transformation? (“To Limn”)
I am slowly moving through Colorado writer J’Lyn Chapman’s collection To Limn / Lying In : essays ([PANK] Books, 2020), a title I might not have been aware of had Heather Sweeney not been good enough to provide a review of same for periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics. As the back cover attests: “Taking its inspiration from the artist Uta Barth’s photographs of the sun as it enters her home and the poet Francis Ponge’s notebooks kept during the German occupation of France, this collection of lyric essays contemplates light as seen through the domestic space and its occupants, predominantly the author’s young children. Meditations on how through light the external world enters into and transforms the private spaces of self and home inextricably link to the author’s writing on life, or the giving of life.” Through ten lyric essays—“Firmament: Postpartum Fugue,” “To Limn,” “Lying In,” “The Wound of Light,” “Dark Grove, Shining,” “Day and Night, Night and Day,” “Consenting to the Emergency / the Emergency as Consensuality,” “Everything That Is Illuminated Becomes a Light,” “Light Upon” and “Nothing Solid Is Really Happening”—Chapman approaches the subject and idea of light the way Anne Carson approaches, say, sleep, albeit with a more intimate eye, writing lyric threads through Ponge, through the light coming in the window, and the interactions with her small children. “As when my body made another body, my body expelled that body, and my body fed that body. And while my body was feeding the new body, my body began to make another body. I continued to watch the light. the world continued to be suffused by it.” Through parenthood, one’s perspective and attentions can’t help but shift, relearning the world from the ground up, laying on the floor with an infant, or simply watching the movement of sunlight through the window. These essays exist in tandem, almost akin to separate chapters or sequence in a book-length articulation around light, small children and beauty, thinking around how and why one records and records what, through the journal, the lyric essay or photography. These essays, this book-length meditation, is deeply moving, deeply intimate and remarkably clear and complex. I might just need to read this a few more times.
Francis Ponge also wanted to describe the light, or something like the light: the sky. Not only the sky, but also the impression of the sky. As well as the urns and statues of cherubs, the bus by which he moved through the landscape, memory. There was also a war, but he doesn’t mention it. All of this, together, even the absence, composed the impression—“the daylight of death, the daylight of eternity”—because the firmament is not divisive, despite the seventh verse of Genesis, and it contains in it everything and every impression, and it gives us life. It is difficult to know when to stop talking about it once you’ve started. (“To Limn”)