As One Fire Consumes Another
Poems by John Sibley Williams
Winner of The 2018 Orison Poetry Prize, selected by Vandana Khanna
paper / 86 pp. / $16.00
Print ISBN: 978-1-949039-01-6
Distributed to the trade by Itasca Books
1-800-901-3480 / email@example.com
Publication Date: April 2, 2019
ABOUT THE BOOK
What happens when metaphysics and social critique meet? Poetry that has to find a new form to express the tension it embodies. John Sibley Williams’ newspaper-like columns in As One Fire Consumes Another do just that. Here, transcendent vision and trenchant social insight meet, wrestle, and end up revitalizing one another.
John Sibley Williams confronts the violent side of American history and its effect on our notions of self, fatherhood, and citizenship. […] The poems, which veer from elegiac to declarative to prayerlike, drill down into the beliefs and fears that underpin this violence.
–Poets & Writers
John Sibley Williams’ collection As One Fire Consumes Another transcends beyond the boundaries of family and history and country, beyond the body’s tragedies, the “silenced bones of others.” These poems rise as invocation, as testimonial to life’s unfiltered beauty, violence, and faith, to the “light . . . already in us.”
–Vandana Khanna, judge of The 2018 Orison Poetry Prize
As One Fire Consumes Another is a rare creation full of song and seethe. Though Williams’ poems are composed of casket-like rectangular frames, their feral energy throbs against justified lines, creating vital articulations in a world where empathy is under erasure—where “even our ghosts have left us.” His is a poetics of elegy and inquiry. These poems serve as witness to lives lost and interrogations of America’s violence as well as its willed amnesia of that brutality. It is a book of radiance and ruin that manages to be benevolent while breathing fire.
If America’s collective conscience is at war, the wounds and battle scars are in full display in John Sibley Williams’ arresting book. No matter how dream-like, no matter how nightmarish or surreal, its startling landscapes reveal accurate truths about our country’s dark humanity. Poem after poem, the strange elegance of As One Fire Consumes Another is remarkable and daunting.
In the incandescent poems of John Sibley Williams’ As One Fire Consumes Another, the suggestion of a collective we is another violence in a violent world where peace and war are suffered in equal measure. These poems live in brilliant little cages that Williams has built for them, the language itself held to the fire. This collection grieves. It flames. It says “your heart / hurts, and your heart hurts.” I am in awe of the beauty and conflict, the elegance and restraint. These poems live in the merciless wilds of memory and tradition, where surrender means being consumed, and everything is made to burn.
As One Fire Consumes Another is a guide through a troubled heritage and eventually death. Each sonic-rich poem places the reader in a different size coffin to watch life, making death always on the mind. Full of passion and heart, this book is always digging through the rubble towards life.
John Sibley Williams indeed uses fire to consume fire, as his work’s title enjoins. His poetry sets the normative uses of poetic language alight and burns away our safe skin of lyric expectation and contextual surety. At the core of this work, for me, there is not only the fierceness of fire, but the flow of blood. It is a poetry that does indeed “bleed the body of its language. Upside down above a trough, throat slit open at the name.” Williams takes each of the ways his speaking agent knows others and knows the self, knows family and history, and physical wellbeing, and opens them to expose what has been denied, what is concealed behind the names we use as placation and false panacea. Do not expect to read these poems and be unchallenged, unchanged. While Williams manifests a speaking agent who is exquisitely culpable, courageously interrogating his lineages of human failings, a reader can’t help but identify with what is the core of these crises. In that identification, I find how to enact for myself this kind of daunting journey, to walk into a fire and emerge burned and bled, and in that freed from living in denial. I will call this a work of recognizable revelations: not revelations that suggest serenity or imperturbability might be achieved, not revelations of how to leave our suffering behind. Rather it is revelation of compassion for others as well as for ourselves, in exactly who we are. From that comes an acceptance of the endless ache that is the human condition. As Williams recounts, one can come to a “dawn [of] burnt umber & all sorts of longing, one fire consuming another.”
These poems, clenched tight within a unified form, are the surreal dispatches of one mind thrashing against a larger American conscience that, in order to preserve its “sanity,” must willfully ignore its unending thirst for violence. Time and again, through a kind of extended phantasmagoria, these poems illustrate how those countless acts of madness, seething just beneath America’s surface, have been so casually ushered from collective memory, like how “Blood washes quickly from the tile / floor.”
What is inside a box? The question is its mystery. Like an American Vasko Popa, Williams offers us a book of little boxes, “each one contained eternities and histories.” If you reach into the dark of these boxes, what you find will surprise, enlighten and terrify you. One of the most original books of poetry I have read in decades.
–Sean Thomas Dougherty
$16.00 Regular Price