A Brief and Endless Sea

By Barbara Pelman

Categories: Poetry
Imprint: Caitlin Press
Paperback : 9781773861258, 96 pages, October 2023

Award-winning poet Barbara Pelman presents a life lived in poetry, delving into the small moments and spaces containing the greatest offerings of love, hope and possibility.


Born out of waiting out the lockdown during the early days of the pandemic, Barbara Pelman’s A Brief and Endless Sea explores a life in retrospect, beginning with a high school typing class and ending with the Angel Purah, cutting the ties that bind a soul to a body. Many of the poems in this collection are rooted in Jewish tradition: the prophet Isaiah’s words of comfort; the rabbinical story of the Lost Princess, that angel and her counterpart, the Angel Duma. Pelman takes us to difficult places—the dissolution of a marriage, caring for a parent with dementia. But she doesn’t leave us there, waiting. Using the power of words to map a route out, A Brief and Endless Sea pulls us toward life in all of its vibrant details—the simple beauty of a small garden of tomatoes and roses, the pleasures of teaching poetry, long walks with a grandson, and encounters with spirituality. For Pelman, there is comfort in the making of a poem and in the “smallest life you can love.” Like the glosa form she turns to often, something small transforms into something larger, expansive. In A Brief and Endless Sea, the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and waiting in itself presents fertile ground for hope and possibility.


“Carol Ann Duffy says, ‘If you are faithful to the imaginative memory of your place, it will be true.’ Here in A Brief and Endless Sea, Barbara Pelman is faithful to memory, imagination and the craft and form of poetry. Also, to the facts of ‘the enormity of the world’s grief,’ as The Talmud states, and the importance of poetry’s song in and against that enormity. As her father says in ‘Chopin Piano Concert #1, Adagio’, ‘Listen, as the music fades.’ Listen also, for what comes next, what bird, what golden curl of hair, what essential moment in the places of our lives.”

—Yvonne Blomer, author of The Last Show on Earth and Book of Places

“For all the literary wisdom, dream-like music, and image-glitter in this collection, the star at the heart of these poems is love—love for the broken earth, for ravens and cellos and blueberries, for what’s faded and what’s shining, for the sizzle and song of words, and for love itself, for all its swoon and thorns and mystery.”

—Carla Funk, author of Gloryland and Every Little Scrap and Wonder

“There is a music throughout A Brief and Endless Sea, one that praises silence or the pastoral, the way bodies meet in rooms and then part. There are memory knots that untie the past, send us to the dark forgetfulness of old age and death, but we don’t want to lose the scents of flowers. The names are gone but not the words of children, these small gardens of sound, planted for us to remember how we once loved.”

—Russell Thorburn, author of Let It be Told in a Single Breath

“Barbara Pelman writes, ‘And seldom is there comfort,’ yet these poems, reaching back into the past and tentatively touching the future, do comfort the reader with their tenderness, wisdom, and grace.”

—Lorna Crozier, author of God of Shadows