We, the Almighty Fires
by Anna Rose Welch
Alice James Books, 2018. $15.95
ReviewED by Andrew Jones
The poems in Anna Rose Welch’s debut collection, We, the Almighty Fires, are as patient as burrs—just when it seems they’ve fallen away or you’ve been freed of their pull, you find them still attached and buried deeper. Winner of the 2016 Alice James Award, this collection moves in a subtle, tidal rhythm from the first poem to the last.
Welch uses great variance in structure and form in the four sections of the collection. The first and third sections are lyrical, with stand-alone poems. In the opening poem, “This Is How You Beg,” Welch prepares the reader to embrace what waits ahead: “Open your arms / wide as if the hull of a long-lost ark were coming to shore itself / against you.” Welch’s haunting imagery is at its best when dealing with questions of creation and separation. “You were woven from animal fur, from another woman’s / hair, from grasses long dead and golden. Always spun / from something else. Like the nests left when winter / comes,” she writes in “Genesis.”
The second section is a six-part persona poem titled “Noah’s Wife.” It allows Noah’s wife to retell and correct a portion of the ark story in her voice. The poems that follow in the third section require careful consideration of relationships both physical and emotional. In “La Petit Mort,” we encounter lines such as “When the water wanted something, it rose up / and took it like fathers do mothers.”
Arks, bones, and birds, water, bodies, and shores drift in circles throughout the collection with great effect. Welch asks us to examine these recurring images as aspects and vessels of devotion and questions how the roles of believer, lover, and gender confront each other. “What a blessing, to be so simple. To realize desire / is as much a purpose as anything else. / To be fallen, to be bare, to be an untied shock / of lightning in the center of a man’s room,” she writes in “Story in Which I’m Renamed Eve and Just Don’t Give a Damn.”
We, the Almighty Fires closes with a prose poem, “Noah’s Woods,” broken into nine numbered sections. Each section responds to an opening phrase from another text and, in many ways, the this long, final poem serves as a capstone for a very fine and mature debut. The deep patience and examination Welch offers is refreshed and buoyed by imagery that becomes familiar and personal. As she writes in the opening poem, “According to scripture, all you need is faith the size of a claw / to command whatever has left you to return.” These poems offer plenty for us to have faith in and a reward us with each return.
Andrew Jones teaches writing at the University of Dubuque in Iowa. His writing has appeared in recent issues of Hobart, The Tishman Review, Memoir Mixtapes, and Split Rock Review.