On Small Fires, Little Flames

Penna_Adam_Small Fires_Little Flames_Coverart

Cover art and author portrait by Max Stablein

I wrote Small Fires, Little Flames while I was writing Talk of Happiness.  In some ways, I see these two books as complementary, so it makes sense that they should come out, more or less, together.  Plus, it suits my sense of, I don’t know, parallelism that Finishing Line, who published my first book, a chapbook called The Love of a Sleeper in 2008, and S4N Books, who published my first full-length collection, the two long sequences, Little Songs & Lyrics to Genji in 2010, should now be repeating that publishing schedule.

The follow-ups to my first two books are different creatures.  And they should be.  When I teach revision, I always end on the essential insight all writers must come to, that is, that ultimately, when we revise, we follow Pound’s dictum, “Make it new,” but what we make new isn’t the text.  What we must make new is ourselves.  This is why Rilke concludes his sonnet on the “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” with the line, “You must change your life,” and Wright ends his “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” with the crucial and happy insight: “I have wasted my life.”

It’s hard for anyone who hasn’t taken literature seriously to know exactly what this means.  Of course, I’d like to think I take literature seriously.  It doesn’t make sense to identify as a poet and not take what you do seriously.  Poetry, as we all know, doesn’t pay except in those intangible and indirect ways, and one of its wages is wisdom.  This is why, the intimation I felt, when I began to write poetry, that poets must be better people, I’ve only amended a little over the years.  Poets aren’t better people than those who don’t write poetry, but a real, true poet must be better than she otherwise would have been without poetry.

The poems in Small Fires, Little Flames are quiet, reflective and, I hope, true.  They are as much of praying as I could then bear.  The thirty poems are meant to be read in a single sitting.  They are meant to suggest a narrative not so much of events but of the development of spiritual principles.  Because of these two characteristics, most of the poems in the collection haven’t been published in magazines or journals.  In fact, I only recall submitting one poem for submission, which then appeared in The Long Islander as “The World at 8 AM.”  That the collection is now being published seems to me an experience akin to miracle.  When I submitted the manuscript to Finishing Line’s chapbook contest, I didn’t expect to win, but I hoped that, seeing the work and recognizing its worthiness, Leah Maines and company might find value in the book and agree to publish it.

What I like about Finishing Line is just this.  They’ll take a chance on a book like Small Fires, Little Flames, that is, they’ll take a chance on a sequence of 30 untitled, very personal and intimate lyrics about God and grief and poetry.  But maybe I underestimate the publishing world.  Maybe there are plenty of other publishers out there, like S4N and Finishing Line, who are so convinced by their poets’ visions that they are prepared to lose money on the deal.  I mean, isn’t that what poets and those who love them are facing?  Poetry, as an art, has the privileged of leading all the other arts into the red, because you can’t serve Mammon and the Lord, as Kit Hathaway used to joke.

Of course, I’d like to sell a few of these books.  I’d like to sell a lot of them.  And already, prepublication sales are coming along nicely.  For those of you who’ve already ordered your copy, I want to thank you for supporting me and my work.  If you haven’t ordered yet, but you want to, you can visit the Finishing Line site here, and place your order.  Then you, too, will get your copy of Small Fires, Little Flames soon after the August 11th, 2017 publication date.   If you’re still on the fence, I offer you this sample poem from the book.  The last image in the poem alludes to Bernini’s famous statue, “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.”

Wish on a shooting star
but to an angel pray.
That prayer is easy.  Say,
I’m here, which means,

I’m ready, and readiness
prepares a heart
to inch up to the precipice
and dive.  The schemes

of scholars and rabbis
amount to this.
Saint Thomas turned
from Aristotle and learned

what reason fails to teach.
What can we do before
glory but kneel?  Or faint
in ecstasy like Saint Teresa?

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