Review of Breath Ablaze: Twenty-One Love Poems in Homage to Adrienne Rich, Volume II by Julie Weiss

Breath Ablaze: Twenty-One Love Poems in Homage to Adrienne Rich, Volume II cover
Breath Ablaze: Twenty-One Love Poems in Homage to Adrienne Rich, Volume II
Julie Weiss
Bottlecap Press, 2024, 32 pages

Reviewed by Courtney Heidorn

Julie Weiss embodies the spirit and style of Adrienne Rich’s love poems in Volume II of Twenty-One Love Poems in Homage to Adrienne Rich. Readers do not need to read Volume I to be enchanted by Weiss’s quaint love story, nestled away in a Pyrenean village, nor do Rich’s original poems need to be read to experience the narrative of lesbian longing that threads through this collection. Breath Ablaze is imbued with subtle storytelling, powdered sugar longing, and a thread of timelessness that delivers Weiss’s poems straight to the heart of any sapphic reader, young or old.

Weiss’s ability to subtly, yet powerfully create a narrative of her two central lovers feels like an old friendship that picks up right where it left off. In poem III, the narrator writes about her lover: “Does identity matter, anyway, / when beyond my bakery, the landscape is / undressing in the glimmer of your astonishment?” (3). Not only does the ambiguity of identity lend itself to the mystery that the narrator experiences, but also the reader’s participation in that mystery. With this intoxicating obscurity, how could one not keep reading?

Our narrator is a baker, and their creations are often paired with a sweet lesbian longing that they and the reader find themselves hungering for. In poem VI, the narrator muses, “Like the caramel-dipped / castaña de mazapán seducing your tongue” (6). The narrator’s lover is an outsider discovering the baker’s craft, which Weiss translates as a sensual exploration of desire. Beyond baked goods, Weiss incorporates sopa oscense (a popular stew in Huesca) into her poetry, having the narrator implore, “I’d happily mince all of me into a fusion / of flavors just to glide down your throat” (9). The same need for sustenance is conflated with the need for their lover’s touch.

Weiss’s love story, because it is short, subtle, and sweet, feels outside of time. This narrative could exist in any century, just as poem XIII ponders, “Say it were the 18th century…Would you / engrave my face on the wall separating us, / where your slashed breasts rested?” (13). This collection asks: would we have our same lovers, even our same desires, if time were a mere chance? Weiss answers: “Asombroso, how time and space conspired / to merge our lives” (21). It is both: time’s providence and chance led these lovers together, and, at the same time, leads readers to this exhilarating collection.

Courtney Heidorn (she/they) is a Sinister Wisdom intern. She holds a BA in English and creative writing from Azusa Pacific University. You can see more of their work in CURIOUS Magazine and at Pearl Press.

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