Zach Savich, The Firestorm

Publisher: Cleveland State University Poetry Center

2011, 84 pages, paperback, $16

reading zach savich’s new book, The Firestorm, is much like looking for a fire escape when caught in an unfamiliar burning building. The poems burn slowly as the language bulges and envelops like a cloud of overwhelming smoke, and just when it looks like an escape is near, the reader is bombarded with a back draft of rapidly changing thoughts. This book is no easy read, very much Ashbery-esque with lines that leap from image to image, turning the mind into a sieve, unable to grasp the cascading words.

During the first read, The Firestorm is frustrating and cloudy, walking dangerously on the line of incoherence. However, a sharpness creeps through the language; and, though the reader may feel uninvited, the poems create a compelling intrigue. On a second read, the terrain of the mindscape is easier to navigate, as it becomes apparent that the poetry informs itself as the book progresses. The first two sections, “Pyrocumulous” and “The man who lost his head,” consist of un-marked poems of varying shape and structure, all of which read more like continuous unraveling poetry than self-contained poems.

Her dress we called The Entire

Snowy Firs Unhappening. Of Superman,

the docile language student’s

tutor explained he cannot hurt

may mean he does not

cause pain or feel it. Leaden floods deflowered

us through small towns near Homestead

and Tulle. Saw the curled vine iced,

as though frozen in motion though

veritably grown steadily to that curling, still

who knows more than a word

or two for starlight on the concrete dam?

It is within these first sections of poetry that we are introduced to recurring themes and images (smoke, snow, light, angles, perspective, transformation, belief, balance), as well as a mysterious beloved addressed only as “Dear.” The un-fenced fluidity of the first two sections culminates in the tightly crafted poems of the penultimate section, “To find, in the imbalance, ballast.” The poems are sharp and delicate, folding line upon line, ever inward, into images that resist imagining, able only to be sensed, impartial in the mind’s eye. This is, perhaps, best exemplified in “Portrait of My Death”:

Not the angle

of hill but light

angled on it,

not the woman

but the angle of

a dress I came

across, sun-

lightened like each

felled leaf was

a flare up

the street or jump

rope handle broke

and left well

enough alone each

wave given woven

into the flushed

factual head count

I called a new

hotel they are building

at the end of town

The collection moves and turns with the quickness of smoke, but there seems to be a determined suppression of chaos within the work. Though its title claims fire, the book contains more ice than heat; and the energy of the work remains in a potential state, stilled and frozen despite the ever-changing landscapes the poems construct. At first this stillness seems detrimental and counter-intuitive to a work that navigates through interiors of mental states; however, there is much pleasure in the restraint.

I suppose I do believe in nothing / though there is

geometry, of ass and martini glass / my bus schedule

tattoo, responsive, postbox mouth / leaves underfoot gone

pulpy until they’re merely water / and in my soul

a bowling lane’s hard-won clatter / man at the

laundromat stripped, his head in a machine / flowers in

the windowseat of an empty store

The surface of every line holds back a bulge of energy that creates a tension upon which the reader can gain a firm footing. Without this, the book could run the risk of falling into lyric indulgence. However, indulgence is withheld, and the book radiates with the power of both fire and the taming of it.

—Jessica Binkley