Paraclete in Hebrew has had several meanings, chief of them I believe is “one who consoles.” This may even be the metaphoric meaning of Raising the Sparks, the beautiful new book by Jennifer Wallace. I have known her meditative poems since before her earliest collection; her poems have steadily grown in their mystical power and philosophic approach to seeking consolation for herself and for others. There are many different paths to wisdom and many ways to structure a parable or a prayer; almost all of them can be found in this heartfelt book, whether the kerruling gulls of nature or the carved whale of a man named Homer (really).
Author of Shades & Graces: New Poems, inaugural winner of the Daniel Hoffman Legacy Book Prize (2020) and Necessary Speech: New & Selected Poems, forthcoming (2021).
Jennifer Wallace’s Raising the Sparks is an extremely powerful garland of poems, filled with earned Ignatian discernment and the rabbinic wisdom of the Kabbalah’s tikkun olam, once more igniting those sparks from the Original Creation and splintering of the Lord’s Big Bang in our common fall from grace to a return—step by amazing step—to learning how to pay attention to the infinite grace abounding around us. There’s an honesty and wit in these poems that echo and play contrabasso with Merton and Hopkins, and especially with Berryman’s late Addresses to the Lord, a yearning for the Mystical that—if you listen closely enough—will stagger you.
—Paul Mariani, author of The Mystery of It All: The Vocation of Poetry in the Twilight of Modernity
There is a deep intimacy, a buck-naked honesty, shot through the prayer poems (or is it poem prayers?) of Jennifer Wallace’s latest collection, Raising the Sparks, a title that takes its name from 16th-century mystical Judaism’s telling of the sacred story of the “shattering of vessels,” in which our holy purpose is to repair the world through the gathering up of divine sparks scattered and strewn in time’s beginning when God’s presence could not be contained. But it is in the epistolary section, “Letters to Jesus,” where it’s as if we’ve entered the holy of holies of some anchoress-poet’s cell, and we can only hope that our prayer might catch the slipstream of hers, so beautifully wrought, so chiseled to the bone is each blessed utterance. Poetry or prayer, Wallace makes me reach to catch her rising sparks.
—Barbara Mahany, author of Slowing Time, Motherprayer, and The Stillness of Winter
Jennifer Wallace’s Raising the Sparks peers into the intimate moments of life to reveal the wondrous and mysterious unfolding of Life. Each poem takes you into a world that at first seems to belong to another and then makes itself known as your own. A book to be savoured.
—Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author of Accidental Grace
Jennifer Wallace’s honest and perceptive poetry is rooted in earthy “leafcrunch and mudslip” of the quotidian, yet unerringly finds “a deeper gravity” which draws us into another country altogether. Raising the Sparks is “alive with uncertain certainty,” shot through with gleams of both reluctance and faith. These poems resist “kneel[ing] in the fire that burns for you,” but all the while glitter with “this burning, uninvited,” throwing sparks which summon us to see “an optimism in the crooked distance.”
—Laura Reece Hogan, author of Litany of Flights: Poems
Almost Entirely Reviews
HALF WAY TO ENTIRELY
C.S. Lewis described the human condition as a process of always becoming more of what we already are. These are cautionary words for me at this point in middle age, particularly as I consider the possibilities. In Lewis’s The Great Divorce, the Teacher speaks regretfully of a seemingly harmless woman who has come to the end of her life, not as a “grumbler,” but as “only a grumble.”
It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. . . You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine. (74, 75)
Thanks be to God, it seems that this tendency can work in positive ways as well, and the poet Hayden Carruth bears witness to this, declaring in his “Testa- ment”: “Now I am almost entirely love.” Whatever sifting and sandpapering process brought him to that state, his words inspired Jennifer Wallace as she collected an offering of her own poems.
In Almost Entirely: Poems (Paraclete Poetry) the reader is treated to the process of a woman becoming. As one who is “predisposed by nature to question everything,” (17) Wallace reconciles her doubts with the pres-
ence of a God who is well able to take in hand her persistent wondering. In the process, God shows up in both surprising and ordinary ways within the pauses: