This Wednesday, we have something new for you! Please enjoy Linzi Garcia's review of
The Dance Back to Being: a review of Setting the Waves on Fire
The quest for transcendence–a release from the burdensome bonds of finite existence and return to Being, the Source of all that is–powers the poems in Setting the Waves on Fire, Arlice Davenport’s debut poetry collection released in October 2020 by Meadowlark Press.
What first strikes you when opening the book is the way it is organized into four sections: waves: SPIRIT, waves: WORLD, waves: POETRY, and waves: BEING.
The philosophical density of this work is quickly apparent, and we see that the poems come from a place of ontology: metaphysical philosophy studying the nature of Being. Each section relates to a different component of the human experience of Being, and the book jumps in at the end of one phase of that experience, death, and the beginning of another, spirit. In the opening poem, “Nearing the End,” the narrator advises:
First, give all your money to the poor.
Then gather your other possessions
and burn them, breathing a prayer
of contentment as smoke spirals
to the heavens.
Ritually bathe your body–the last thing
you own–cleansing it of sin and regret.
Repent. Rejoice. Reunite with your Source.
Spirit exists in the place between Being and World, keeping the two connected. It guides human experience in a way that eventually allows it to reunite with its Source. The reader rides on the shoulder of Spirit through time and space, discovering the force of inwardness.
In waves: WORLD, poems about time and place tell stories of the constant, the ancient, and the ever-changing elements in the Earthly realm. Even when fully enjoying this realm, it is natural to seek something larger and to be guided by Spirit in that quest. In “The Outpatient Season,” the poet acknowledges the cyclical nature of the seasons and his place within the cycle, as well as the inevitability of death, as time routinely carries him into autumn:
I have survived many such seasons,
thinking only of what lies ahead,
willing myself blind to what has come before,
trying to grasp what is here, now,
dream upon dream upon dream.
Death allows the Spirit within to transcend linear time. The first line of the subsequent stanza reads, “I flee Time, the incorrigible executioner,” who no longer holds the poet within its grasp.
Part of the search for transcendence comes from participating in the world through different geographic regions, through different perspectives, and through different experiences. This book offers tours across France, the United States, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Greece, and more. We get to see these places through the eye of the poet, and in such poems as “Piazza Navona,” we spend time observing where the hearts of these places are situated, which are often in the art and the natural landscape:
Bernini’s sculptures float
over fountains like
a ship’s mast set in stone,
straining to stray off-course.
I follow the muscular, hysterical
flow of the Four Rivers.
Lethe bubbles underground.
Chubby-faced children spew
showers between their cheeks.
Nothing is quiet in Piazza Navona,
spreading to the seven hills
like a blanket of bedlam.
Davenport makes it clear that art has a significant position in helping humans understand what is beyond World. In the section waves: POETRY, inclusions like metapoetry and discussing points of connectivity between ancient and contemporary poets present the timelessness of the art form as well as the message that poetry is one way we are brought closer to Being. Such timelessness
suggests that poetry transcends worldly existence. In “Poems,” Davenport writes,
Let poems be your guide, their love
is eternal, they seek the ideal,
they comfort the sorrowful,
their lines inspire the helpless mind.
They raise you above the broken pieces
Other poets can relate to this section, understanding that their “home is not of earth or water, / but of sky,” as Davenport writes in “The Way of the Poets.” Readers with familiarity of canonical poets may also have an appreciation for how some of those poets are paid homage to, in structure or content, throughout Davenport’s waves: POETRY poems.
The last section of the book is waves: BEING. These poems reach a point of understanding. The poem “Mountain” assures us that we need not search so hard for such understanding. It comes from being open to what is there, and what is there will be revealed to us when the time is right.
You have your own mountain within.
It pierces the sky, buoys on the sea.
Climb it in solitude, in inwardness.
Rest in exertion.
You will find adventure, joy–
a pilgrimage to heaven’s gates.
Climb, climb, and you will find
the face of God.
Each section develops the unique ascension back to Being, but it is not explosive nor rapturous. The climb, though at times laborious, is a natural part of the human experience. We are inherently poetic beings, traveling through these different phases, on our way back to Being.
This book provides a sense of reassurance that in the end, Being welcomes you home as if you never left–because you never really did. Existence is complex, and, as these poems show, it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.
I would be remiss if I did not mention this book’s colorful cover. The image is a photograph of Riomaggiore, a major village in Cinque Terre, Italy, taken by Rob Greebon of Texas. Davenport wrote the title poem while visiting. With its vibrant colors and nearly surreal landscape, it’s the kind of cover you can get lost in, the kind of place that makes you not want to go home, the kind of book you'll live in while you read.