The Church of the Love of the World, by Grace Wells, Dedalus Press, 100 pp, €12.50, ISBN: 978-1910251966
Grace Wells introduces us to the task she sets herself in her newest collection in her first poem, “Vestige”, which suggests at once the smallness or delicate nature of the task at hand and also that it is a tracing of something already disappearing. There is urgency, a mapping of the route from forest to book, the roots of book in forest. There is an irresistible pull into the world of the poems and the world of nature, deeply entangled as they are, from the outset.
Type and ink like the small handiwork of ant,
the quiet labour of beetle and wasp
mending the world between endpapers
in such a deep entangling way
as to make you part of the woodland
embowered, arboreal, sylvan.
With type and ink and between endpapers we are brought on a journey and the church of the love of the world is our final destination ,but on the way we experience the heartbreak of loss, the pain of watching thoughtless pollution destroying nature and serious threat to the body’s life itself in the form of cancer.
At the writers’ festival few speak of
the more-than-human world,
as if our thinking has been tamed.
Our thinking has been tamed. We are more familiar with the term “less-than-human” and our Western legal world is only beginning to recognise the rights of nature and the environment reluctantly. The repurposing of language jaded by overuse brings fresh thinking. Wells calls on us to rewild ourselves, our thinking, our writing. And more importantly, if we read her with the care with which she writes we will find numerous ways to do this.
Through connecting with nature within herself she brings nature within us to the fore, or to put it another way (something reading Wells prompts me to do) this poetry brings our focus deep within ourselves to our inner nature. She connects the breakdown of the environment with her personal struggles and suffering.
And I carry on with my task, stooped in the river water,
human enough to weep for the oceans,
creature enough to howl for her mate.
This poet is not writing about nature, she is writing with nature. She is using her experience of nature to speak of herself and her life. In this way her experience becomes deeply personal and also available to all of us. In “Grass Poems”, grass retains its essence while at the same time becoming art, becoming a connection to wider issues around grain distribution.
An assemblage of meadow-art,
arranged on white paper
with the hope that seed or form will gift
me meaning, sane and nourishing as grain.
Grass roots takes on a new meaning when we are asked to consider the variety of roots and how they operate. This is radical poetry in every sense.
As if my woman’s hand could
bring our tribes to rest
and let the wild grasses
offer up another agriculture –
white-rooted, rhizomed, mycorrhizal,
all things in their connection.
And just as the roots of the grasses become a way to speak of connection and interconnection, so too the woman’s hand resonates throughout the poems. When Wells tells us her sister is a dressmaker and offers her loose tacking as a metaphor for the connection grasses bring her to nature in herself and the greater world. We are invited to see the back stitching, repeated images of the wild, the body, the roots which connect the intricate lines throughout this collection.
They sew me to life,
or tack me at least.
For readers the grasses may connect the writer to life, but she in turn uses language and poetry to welcome us into this wild space. Wells is a plurilingual poet playing between languages, relishing the space between words and worlds. She explores Irish words to better understand the world around her, feis, tuath, domhain, finding richness in these words which their translations lack. For a book which is of the land, whose language is unfussy and practical, whose mythical references are well-chosen and not exclusionary, Wells manages to question the value of language in general and poetry in particular. In “Vestige”, in “The Limits of my Language are the Limits of my World” and in “The Undervalued Linguistics of Compassion” forays are made into this territory.
There is much to draw the reader in: there is anger, a sense of urgency, but most of all, as you read, the poems will work on you as Wells describes the healer working on her.
My body holds all of that, and this new healer
he doesn’t argue, he seems in his way to understand,
whatever his hands are doing, it’s working,
my tensions drop away, I start to hear my health.
This collection will root and radicalise a careful reader. Many of us have been cauterised, cut off from our own wildness and these poems are a balm to bring our deadened selves back to life. May we all come to worship in “the church of the love of the world”, to “pull from our shadow our fierce love for the world” while the world as we know still exists.
Fiona Bolger is a poet.