Review of The Firestorm by Zach Savich

Zach Savich. The Firestorm. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2011. 96 pp. $15.95, paper.

In keeping with its title, Zach Savich’s The Firestorm evokes a sense of uncontrollable movement. These poems are built around the sudden imposition of stray ideas—a vaunted desire for grace, for example, or the hopeful purity of eunuchs—and the ability to weave them into a poem’s structure. Whether moving from a man “running from firefighters” with “half of his face bloody” to the lyrical dissection of a doorknob, or from a friend “trying to assemble a full / deck from only cards he finds on the street” to a woman’s abortion experience, Savich’s third collection reads like a litany of wild associations, like verse that can’t dismiss anything as ancillary.

Despite all these imaginative leaps, however, the poems in this book rest upon an undercurrent of poetry as process, the sense that “all we’ve ever done is variously revise / Leaves of Grass.” Offered almost as counterpoint to the rapid-fire movement of each piece’s narrative, metaphors often tend toward the flatter end of the presentational register, even highlighting their pared down arrangement as sort of matter-of-fact observations, forgoing the simile by stating “two tomatoes on the table” simply “were a bulbous bird.”

Importantly, this penchant for objective inventory does little to disrupt the collection’s artistic pyrotechnics; rather, Savich provides just enough dissonance through catalog to accentuate bolder moments in the work. Aware of a piece’s constructed nature, yet still somehow desirous of an unnameable “truth,” Savich describes his “dream of the sublime” as:

A birdhouse of xylophone slats—
Sawn so the tiny eggs in it
Shine when Mad Vlad pumps it
Conducting traffic—captivates
Because next he could make it a bludgeon.

While perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek in their interpretations of “terrible beauty,” Savich’s poems still seem genuinely interested in experiences that dwarf human consciousness. Sometimes, these experiences appear physical and everyday, like “how the first swimmers / must have felt” after attaching a ladder to a tree. Sometimes, however, they reside in the act of writing itself.

Savich’s third collection operates under the assumption that all one can do is search, to keep moving. As Savich puts it, one may “have been told the correct usage of hopefully” but must still insist on a different interpretation. Admittedly, at times, the pyrotechnics can seem unnecessary. “Riddle,” for example—set up as a kind of mock dramatis personae for a play that doesn’t exist—might seem antagonistic, simply refusing to meet the reader halfway. Still, these moments are few and far between. Mostly, these poems stick to an unapologetically rapid pace while questioning their own internal mechanisms. In other words, Savich forgets whether he is “pulling the curtain open or closed,” trading the importance of an answer in exchange for its constant pursuit.


Tim Payne is currently finishing up his M.A. in English at the University of West Georgia. He enjoys reading, writing, and cycling on the weekends with his good friend, Carl.