The Song in the Shadowbox

The Soluble Hour by Hillary Gravendyk, Omnidawn Publishing, pp. 88

Gravendyk-Soluble-coverThe Soluble Hour, the posthumous collection from poet Hillary Gravendyk, is a remarkable book of poetry that slips under the skin and lingers on the edge of the breath. Published in 2017 by Omnidawn, and arranged and edited by Cynthia Arrieu-King, this elegiac collection does not bask in mortality, but rather laces life’s shuddering moments through the eyelets of this mortal coil giving Gravendyk’s readers the gift of the author’s keen insight into life’s brief moments as they bloom and dissipate between landscapes and bodies.

Reading The Soluble Hour is to experience the craft of a writer whose precision presses each poem into our palm like a precious stone. Gravendyk’s work is highlighted by the meticulousness of her language, every word a careful consideration, a weight that lingers like a pressure or a tug to the chest, all the while recognizing that nothing is sacred, positioning her words on the page, each line carefully arranged like an object in a shadowbox:

“Ghost ring tone and someone saying my letters or claw-hammer
or gentle. Caller I thought I knew you. Slipped through a heavy
snow into a heavy sleep. Mossed belly, strewn hillside, earlobe.”

— “Sometimes, When Alone, I Hear My Name”, pg. 29

For me, her lines evoke the sculptural creations of Joseph Cornell, and like Cornell she displays an incredible talent for collecting disparate objects and shaping gorgeous images, her lines brimming with striking contour and music. From the conjuring of a chant in phrases like “Ghost ring tone” to the pressure of “claw-hammer/or gentle”, she sequences her language with quivering intensity, rising and falling with a keen awareness of shadow and light, commanding her sharp observations on transience through an adept use of tension, her awareness of her own brevity and those around her flickering, placing no distinction between body and soil, between “Mossed belly, strewn hillside, earlobe.”

While grief and loss are extant in this collection, Gravendyk’s lines are still winged with hues of joy, striking sublime chords of warmth:

“…Forty visions
in a single night, and for the eyes there were cherry pits
licked clean. How it feels to be the bloom in your hands how
to be taken clear down to the stone— to be sweetened into bareness.”

— “The Soluble Hour”, pg. 23

This is Gravendyk’s virtuosity: her artistry and aplomb deployed in carefully constructed poems, the recognition of her own impermanence while still living fully, each line stripped of any hint of treacly mawkishness while balancing great compassion and consideration for ephemerality and loss.

The Soluble Hour is a striking collection, and the loss of Gravendyk so early in her career is significant because we won’t have more of her marvelous work to pore over. While we have only a handful of Gravendyk’s collections to continue to enjoy, readers will find solace in this collection, as The Soluble Hour will continue to illuminate Gravendyk’s light, reminding readers to seek grace in remembrance, even in the face of loss, as Gravendyk writes in “This Is Called Divination” (pg. 38):

“There was you who found the lost spring, cool and secret. I fluttered
in your chest, and was    remembered.”