Set to Music a Wildfire – poems – Ruth Awad

Set to Music a Wildfire
poems by Ruth Awad
SIR Press, 2017


“Will you die for an idea?” – Ruth Awad, from Let me be a lamb in a world that wants my lion

When so much praise is reserved for the universal, for a thing that touches all things, here is Ruth Awad’s Set to Music a Wildfire– a work that feels pressed into the page. A work that picks up the pieces, not after, but during. A work that pauses in order to continue. A rewriting of the detail’s bible. I love this book for its spiritual reportage:

There was the broken teapot and two women, their clothes
torn open, and an infant. (Sabra and Shatila Massacre / Refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon, 1982)

For the way its observant foresight lets image stand:

Tripoli rooftop.
…The sea lipped its insoluble gossip
to the shoreline.

The sky was a jar full of loose teeth. (Tracers)

The book is comprised of three sections: Born into War / House Made of Breath / What the Living Know. Veining through them is a man in a mask, a father, who wants face to leave with a name. Awad is there, it seems, to ghost each section with sigh and nail. From the ‘unbearably soft’ to an earth pinned by animal and animal’s passage, Awad cradles an imaginary fossil through the fog of idea and country.

The map between us proof

I don’t know this world. (Interview with My Father: Maps)

Through interview and remembrance, Awad clays the voice of her father from a homegrown brevity and allows local, fleeting heavens their empty feast.

Years ago when the power cut off,
your family hung in the elevator
like a half-swallowed bite (Elevator / Abou Samra, Lebanon)

We are writing your anthem:
the cursive of blood (A Message from the Guardians of the Cedars)

Death gets no audience here, but does get a performance. Here, history’s flower is a torch. Awad is no bystander, and as a poet who can achieve the trinity of being there for  subject, for self, and for reader, Awad joins rather than invades.

I write all over the pages of the books I’m reading. In Set To Music a Wildfire, I wrote very little, save for this small aside: it was touch / told hand / to over / pack. Awad knows the stasis leaving causes, and this book seems written in a language one is elsewhere understanding. It is an untouchable thing. A handprint’s bliss. A within where place speaks to place. Fly gets its wall, and ghost its tattoo. Awad’s voice carries so much, and manages beautifully the recalling of echo.


review by Barton Smock


book is here:

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