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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Review of Arlice Davenport's Setting the Waves on Fire by Linzi Garcia

This Wednesday, we have something new for you! Please enjoy Linzi Garcia's review of 
Arlice Davenport's Setting the Waves on Fire. The poems mentioned in the review can be found at the bottom of this post.

The Dance Back to Being: a review of Setting the Waves on Fire

The quest for transcendencea release from the burdensome bonds of finite existence and return to Being, the Source of all that ispowers 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. 

Step lightly. 

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 

of existence. 

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.


Nearing the End

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.

Write farewell notes to all your
dearest friends and nearest relatives.
Keep the notes clear and concise—
no euphemisms for death and dying.
No saccharine clinging to the world.

Find a reputable carpenter to build
a simple coffin—most likely
a plain pine box. Meditate on your coffin
for days, imagine yourself laid inside it
with no way out. It will be your temporary
home. Keep it sparse and Spartan.
Look beyond it to the void.

Ritually bathe your body—the last thing
you own—cleansing it of sin and regret.
Repent. Rejoice. Reunite with your Source.
Bask in the glow of requited love.

In the sand, write with your finger a haiku.
Make it jump like a frog into a pond of
lilies. Make it land on your heart
with ever the lightest touch.

Pray for grace to board your passage. Only the living guess at its true nature, unknowing on this side of the grave. Read the Phaedo by Plato. There, Socrates says,
death is either a deep eternal sleep or a reunion with other departed souls. You do not have to choose. The reality will come straight to you like a messenger from afar. Be open to its meaning.
Finally, step into your coffin, fix the lid, and sleep. When you wake, you will be on the other side of dreams. Do not look back. You will have entered the domain of the dead. Make it your new abode. Clamber toward the light.


The Outpatient Season
Warm and tender, the sotto voce passages of The Passion of Joan of Arc soundtrack waft softly through the room, replenishing the pre-winter glow of a perfect autumn afternoon.
Deep yellows, oranges and reds line the cracking, gray sidewalk— beacons of the inexorable killing to come in this, the quiet dawn of the outpatient season.
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.
I flee Time, the incorrigible executioner, who leads each brilliantly colored leaf— its medical gown gaping—to the lip of the abyss, forcing it, with an icy hypodermic shove, over the edge.
At the bottom lie piles upon piles of fading badges of courage—oak, maple, elm; crumpled prescriptions; fraying prayer flags once flown to protest Nature’s annual euthanasia.

Now, in this outpatient moment, let us not forget the sap of the trees slowly freezing, let us not forget the mesmerizing harmonies of angelic anthems urging us to turn away from the illusory beauty accompanying death.
But let us hear the moans of Joan of Arc as she is burned at the stake for heresy, the flames leaping as high as her crudely shorn head, singeing away her wispy eyebrows: she, the chief victim of ecclesial euthanasia.
Yes, this is the outpatient season, the season where autumn goes to die— stripped, prepped and scrubbed— and where we strive to survive, in deep yellows, oranges and reds.


Piazza Navona
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. Step lightly.
Chubby-faced children spew showers between their cheeks. Nothing is quiet in Piazza Navona, spreading to the seven hills like a blanket of bedlam. Heaving waves of tourists speak to themselves in tongues. Whose gift to Roma is this? The Four Winds? The spigots spilling holy water onto the hordes of heedless souls?
Neptune stares down on my dampened bald spot. I will Photoshop it out if he snaps my picture. Or some petite, American tourist will, craning her head like a dolphin flopping on Neptune’s trident.

Navona is a nova of marble and foam. Specters live here. They shout here, they circle.
Bernini’s spawn.


The Way of the Poets
Beware the way your forebears came, dragging goods and cattle, horses and wagons, whimpering children, not nearly enough food or water to cross the unforgiving mountain passes. Destination unknown.
They mistook the rugged, rocky, drought-
ridden road for the path to the promised land. What they found instead was a land full of promise, but beckoning only to the prominent few, who could survive without loss of pride or prowess or precious blood.
But that is not your way. You are destined for much finer things, unseen, celestial things that repair and reset your spiritual compass, and unfurl the map of successive crossroads you must face— the terror of angels, the awe of the miraculous, the angst of self-overcoming.
Your home is not of earth or water, but of the sky, its heliocentric emptiness broadcasts a better way to wander through the inevitable suffering of humankind. A delicate, mindful way.

No, your home is of the sky and of its stars in all their ancient glory. Together they project a haven of words to protect you from the elements and from ambush by the rash mountain climbers before you.
Theirs is not your way, no. Yours remains the way of Li Po, the vulnerable, venerated way, the way of the poets.


Do not succumb to restlessness. Another journey will not drain the ocean or clean the sky. Another mountain will not reveal the rooftop of the world.
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.

Like what you read? Check out Davenport's other Meadowlark book, Everlasting!

Follow Arlice Davenport at www.inpraiseofpoetry.com


  1. Thanks for the beautiful review, Linzi. You bring the collection of poems to life, linking them all back to Being, clearly their muse. I appreciate your publishing the poems at the end of the review, and I think your interpretation is spot-on. You bring the book back to my memory in vivid images and colors. Your hard, intellectual work pays off. I'm in your debt once again. -- Arlice

  2. Thank you for entrusting me to write it, Arlice! It was great to spend so much time with this book, really feeling and envisioning your subjects (easy to do with your writing). I am glad you are pleased, though you are never in my debt. (= Thank you for your poetry, your perspective, your life.

  3. Linzi and Arlice, A finely crafted and insightful review of an exquisite book of poetry. Thanks to you both and to Tracy for the very special Meadowlark Press. ~ Roy