The Necessity of Wildfire: Poems

The 38 gritty entries in Caitlin Scarano's second collection of poetry, The Necessity of Wildfire, boldly reckon with abuse and illness. Animal metaphors and the vocabulary of desire track the poet's movement from a traumatic childhood into womanhood. "Travel far from where they raised you/ and your blood will still burn," Scarano (Do Not Bring Him Water) warns in "Oxbow," which depicts family curses as inescapable. Autobiographical poems mine her father's death and her girlhood memories of molestation by her grandfather. Fear of passing on "defective" genes contributes to her decision not to have children of her own.
Ominous symbolism draws on nature, such as deer hunting or a snapping turtle turned to roadkill. The poem "Calf" alternates between her father's diagnosis of a life-threatening illness and an ailing "cow on her side,/ a trembling mass." But the natural world can also represent pure beauty, as it does in poems about the aurora borealis and the dignity of a wolf. Wildfire variously connotes carelessness, lust or, as per the title, an ironic act of care. Sometimes the titles of poems tell mini-stories: "Every disaster branches out from another" and "Not the ending (that came much later) but when we knew it was over." Self-deprecating humor surfaces in "I know we're all sick of poems with deer but let me explain." Alliteration, repetition, and internal or slant rhymes form the sonic palette. Compound adjectives ("cavernquiet" and "blood-bright") lend novelty. There's onomatopoeia in the "snap" and "crack" of a wishbone. Some prose segments verge on brooding essays.

Meditating on family's "pronged, bloodshot legacies," these visceral poems pack a punch. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

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