Sarah Minor recommends J’lyn Chapman’s To Limn / Lying In (Pank Books, 2020)

J’Lyn Chapman’s To Limn / Lying In is a gem among titles released during a year when time for reading has felt hard for some of us to come by. This month I’m reading it for the second time with a student in an independent study. We recommend the book for the many pleasures it offers across a slender volume, and for the quality of presence Chapman models for writers in every line.

To Limn / Lying In is a collection of ten lyric essays. Across them, Chapman documents her self-assigned daily practice to describe light without using figurative language: “One morning, the firmament is pale blue lightening into cream toward the horizon, which is really the feathery edges of silhouetted trees, like the shore seen from far away, the edge of frost.” To Limn is written after the successive birth of two children. Through addresses to light, each essay frames a time between times—the postpartum period—in conversation with writers like Etel Adnan, Francis Pong, and works of art like Earth-Moon-Earth, a translation of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata into morse code.

These are essays conversing directly with forms of constraint—temporal and architectural, physical and linguistic—that shape the process of their making. One of the remarkable qualities of the bookis Chapman’s evocation of daily, domestic experiences of time that often go unrecorded: “The backyard is obscured in a film the child has never seen and does not understand. Hiding in the word film there are these other meanings slipping against one another.” To Limn / Lying in offers us these unnamed moments in the limn of days as material for deep consideration. Through the speaker’s ritual practice of documentation without metaphor, this collection discovers that thinking “is inextricable from the body living in the world.” This is a book that returned myself and my co-reader to our own attentions through a syntax that ties the mind back to the body, the day back to the night.

Sarah Minor is a writer and interdisciplinary artist and the author of Slim Confessions: The Universe as a Spider or Spit, winner of the Noemi Press Book Award for Prose (2021), Bright Archive, a collection of visual essays (Rescue Press, 2020), and The Persistence of The Bonyleg: Annotated , selected by Joseph Harrington for the Essay Press Digital Chapbook Contest (2016).

Minor is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the Cleveland Institute of Art, curator of the visual essay series at Essay Daily, Video Editor at TriQuarterly Review and the Assistant Director of the Cleveland Drafts Literary Festival.  She holds a PhD in Creative Nonfiction from Ohio University and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona. 

Minor is the recipient of a Research Fellowship to Iceland from the American Scandinavian Foundation, a 2019 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and her flash piece "Something Clear" was awarded the 2018 Barthelme Prize in Short Prose. Minor has held fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center and the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and was the 2018 Peter Taylor Fellow at the Kenyon Writer's Workshop.