paper • 136 pages • 15.95
ISBN-13: 978-1-935536-57-4

Lighting the Shadow made LitHub’s “The Best Poetry Collections of 2015” list and was a finalist for both the 2016 Wheatley Book Award in Poetry and the 2015 Balcones Poetry Prize.

Lighting the Shadow

Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Lighting the Shadow is about a woman’s evolving journey through desire, grief, trauma, and the peculiar historical American psyche of desire and violence. These poems explore the international and psychological wars women survive–wars inflicted through various mediums that employ art, race, and literature. Furthermore, the collection is about a woman’s transformation and acceptance of her complicated attempts to balance her spirit’s own spectrum. Pulling the poet away from death, these poems insist that she open her life to her own powers and the powers of the greater world–a world that is both bright and dark.

“The Woman and The Branch” from Lighting the Shadow:

I knew. I knew. My mother gave me
her bluebird of happiness. Carrying the glass
inside my skin to school, I was young.
Show us what you have, the world said.
I was polishing somebody’s rapture.
It wasn’t mine. Not my paradise
or my mother’s love, but oh god
how it shone. I could never tell
which bird was singing. I went home
like a canticle to its branch. I flew
through gray leaves away from
childhood. I gave my mother answers I knew,
didn’t ask whether there was another color—
was blue right after all? Was happiness
a song to be shattered? I couldn’t explain the frailty, how
the figurine had cracked
when I looked through its life.


Praise by Terrance Hayes
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Praise by The Georgia Review

“‘I shine you / with my leather rag of syllables. It’s all I am,’ Rachel Eliza Griffiths tells the shadows, herself, and us in these striking new poems. She addresses the silence and silenced: ‘the rows of women who will be opened & burned like letters’ and the letters themselves comprising the language of loss, love, and transformation. Lighting the Shadow is by turns surreal and heart achingly real–it is, at every turn, a book of spellbinding radiance.” – Terrance Hayes

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“These poems are searing and ecstatic, peering into all manner of experience and peeling back layer after unexpected layer. They get to the quick, but first they run their eyes across the world’s many splendid and pain-strewn surfaces. Griffiths deciphers ‘the deep slurs of silence,’ ‘the astonishing promise of oblivion,’ and ‘light like a relic on a master’s shelf,’ Then, at the turn of a page, she conjures lines as plain-faced and unabashed as: ‘Why are you still not afraid of me?’ and ‘I wish I were like Johnny Cash / & thought my heart was mine.’ Lighting the Shadow is rare and revelatory.” – Tracy K. Smith

Lighting the Shadow is a unique embodiment of the unseen space between language and spirit. In bristling eloquence, Griffiths has written about history as the embodiment of personal loss, about the soul’s traveled landscape in the inner breath of what constitutes gender and humanity. The imagery in these poems rips through to the reader with a freshness that comes only from a poet who knows the terrain of the subconscious, the place where speech and gesture, word and act, water and stone form the invisible reality. The figure of the mystic in the body of mythos, these poems are astonishing and tangible as Johnny Cash’s black suit. This is the brand of a sincerity in suffering that has made of itself the deepest compassion. Lighting the Shadow is as much about the truer definition of art as it is about the subjects that live inside it. Bravo.” – Afaa Michael Weaver

“Her ambitious ‘New World,’ a longer poem that reckons with the legacy of American industry and dreams of material ascension, identifies and gives shape to specters at work in the present, culminating in a tribute to ‘Broken wheelbarrows of men/ forming flags, waving the spokes, the unspoken/ labor. The violence of course.’ Yet, as expansive and outward-looking as Griffiths’s poems are in their subject matter, they are metabolized through the personal and unified by a continuous speaker, one whose ‘voice is a gold streetlamp corroded by ghost moths.'” – Publishers Weekly, April 2015 Read the full review.

“The poems’ fierce and unflinching gaze leaves little unseen, parsing devastation wrought by loss and heartbreak that spans both personal and public histories, intertwining them with new and ancient mythologies, homages to the dead, and stark examinations of violence in the world we live in.” Read the full review.

“I’ve heard numerous editors and critics argue for a ‘narrative arc’ or ‘necessary transformation’ to take place over the course of a book of poems, and while transformation (and transportation) is unavoidable when reading Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s Lighting the Shadow, and yes, it comes with a loose conceit, this hearty collection does not rely on either and breathes as so much more than a well-constructed book. It is an expansive, adaptable, demanding conversation, one that will last.” Read the full review.

“…Though themes reoccur, what is most striking about this collection is Griffiths’s amazing innovation. She revisits themes, yet her familiarity is never stale—she never writes the same poem. Instead, in the words of the ancestors, she “troubles” the moment. ” — Kenyon Review Read the full review.

“…The ecstatic stance described here is hard won, with Griffiths opening herself to agonies without the comforting reassurance of transcendent meaning….”— The Georgia Review Read the full review.