From 1982 until 2002, Joe Weil worked as a tool grinder and union shop steward in a mold making plant in Kenilworth, New Jersey. Many of the poems in The Great Grandmother Light were written on the graveyard shift while on break at the factory. There, Weil read the poetry of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda, Ceasar Vallejo, Gabrielle Mistral, Miguel Hernandez, Robert Creely, Robert Kelly, and William Carlos Williams, as well as hundreds of contemporary poets. The poems in The Great Grandmother Light chart the history of his journey from tool grinder to university lecturer. Weil claims the common thread of his poems to be his "Catholic worker" sensibility and his reading in the Spanish poets as well as Simone Weil and Flannery O’Connor. "I am a Catholic writer," Weil says, "I believe in Eucharistic reality...in beauty and truth hidden under the signs of what is broken and appears to be discounted. I agree with George Bernanos: all is grace. But this grace is difficult, sometimes impossible to quarry. His poems are about the difficulty of quarrying grace in places from which no one expects any to come. His poems read as if he expects to be ambushed by grace at any given moment. This is the great grandmother light, a light present at all times and in all places, that he shares with his readers.
Weil's poems burn with the passionate conviction that singing itself can be the act that purifies us—or, if not, that there is nothing else to do but sing even as we go down in flames. In Poem after poem he reminds us that, at its best, poetry springs from necessity and requires great heart as well as great talent. Even at his most humorous (and his poems can be very funny) the stakes he's playing for our real. This isn't art for art's sake; it's for our sake.
—Martin Jude Farawell
Like A Certain other guy from New jersey, Joe Weil is "The Boss." He, too, writes soul anthems and power ballads of the factory towns and the working class, with consummate skill and rude fidelity. And he has some principles that are still deeply needed by us Americans: compassion for the fallen; tough mindedness; praise for survivors ; un-self importance; the ability to tell right from wrong, and to give the finger to the glib, the powerful, and the pretentious.
Reading these poems feels like taking a lunch break with a fresh salami sandwich and good hot coffee, out of sight of the bosses. Joe Weil's voice speaks to our time, edged with the steel of hard-won experience. Which is not to say he won't make you laugh. The Great Grandmother Light is a fine, full-bodied collection. Check it out.
No living poet has more influenced me than Joseph Weil with ecstatic poems of grit and light. Reading Weil is to witness our own American Miguel Hernandez. From elegies to Chavez, to ex girlfriends, odes to Rimbaud and fig Newtons, a jar of pickles to Palestrina or Margin Gaye or the heels of Sophia Loren, Weil's range is enormous. Part Spanish surrealist, part union rep, part ironic comedian like Lenny Bruce or George Carlin, Weil's poems rise with wit and wonder out of "a river where joy and grief/refuse to give their names. You must guess which is which/and the wrong guess is always right."
—Sean Thomas Dougherty