Set to Music a Wildfire by Ruth Awad
Southern Indiana Review Press, 2017
Reviewed by Matt Fowler
Ruth Awad’s debut collection of poetry Set to Music a Wildfire is a beautifully written series that details the journey of an adolescent boy who plays witness to the Lebanese civil war. He is deeply impacted by the conflict and eventually travels to America where a new set of struggles takes place. Awad’s poetic prowess situates the reader alongside the wayward speaker through moving images and sobering revelations.
The first section of the collection is titled, Born into War and it features a poem called Hunt that displays the skillful lens through which Awad views the world. The first stanza reads,
I listen for the wind yowling like a wounded dog, its burdened octave
nosing through the bullet-pocked palms.
I listen for the animal sealed in the basement. The grind of teeth.
Survival. Hunger at the bottom of a well.
The particularly crisp image of the bullet-pocked palms paired with the emotional weight of a dog howling in a burdened octave are what makes this collection a truly sensory experience. In the next stanza, a brilliant image makes it apparent to the reader that this collection is something quite remarkable, Awad writes,
A mouth of light
pointing like a compass needle
Set to Music a Wildfire encompasses many themes including life during wartime, loss, memory, guilt, and family. These themes are interwoven throughout the novel to create a larger landscape of the individual experience as it applies to the speaker, all while allowing the reader to voyeuristically engage with the text. Near the end of the collection a poem titled On the Night You Ask for a Divorce really highlights what it means to be alone;
I inventory what the night does not erase:
amphibious raft I envy with my heart.
Set to Music a Wildfire is a worthwhile read with an overarching theme of survival and what survival can look like according to this powerful and promising poet.