It Was Fever That Made The World, by Jim Powell
I get the feeling that I would have a lot of disagreements with Jim Powell when it comes to matters of faith and beliefs and personal conduct. This book shows the author to be interested in gnostic spirituality and a connoisseur of decadence, and those are not things I view particularly highly. That said, if the author is definitely a pagan, he is at least a cultured pagan and there is some sort of appreciation that one can have of people who are honest even if they are honestly wrong. It is to be appreciated that if the author celebrates the sort of fevered and unrighteous desire that made the world what it is–and the author does not appear to necessarily celebrate the world that fever has made–he is at least honest about not being on the side of the angels, and in living with the expectation of some sort of judgment for his celebration of the fire of unrighteous desire throughout the ages. Sometimes an open enemy that one can have a civilized conversation with is to be preferred to a false friend who only pretends to have the same interests and commitments at heart.
This book is a short collection of poems about 80 pages long or so that is divided into two parts. The first part of the book is called “The Crooked House,” and it begins with the titular poem and then moves on to contain poems that discuss matters of home, references to heat and thirst, a letter in the form of a poem called simply “A Letter,” as well as references to lighting the furnace, Sappho, Baudelaire, and Napoleon. All of this is likely done for the poet to get some credibility in terms of his decadent life and views on writing. The second part of the book is called “Fire Signs,” and it contains more classical references, including ones to Circe and Cleopatra, as well as more references to matters of flame and fire, such as deserts, glass-blowing, fire signs, as well as one reference to snow drifts, something that might encourage someone to light a fire to keep warm. This second section is a bit longer than the first, but contains similar sorts of witty and erudite poems to the first part of the book, after which the book ends with some acknowledgements.
I would not say that these poems are even close to the most wonderful poems that I have written. Nevertheless, as someone who reads a lot of poetry I can say that the vast majority of works that are published and awarded when it comes to contemporary poetry are pretty terrible. Thankfully, this book is not terrible. In some ways it seems a bit old-fashioned, but not in a bad way. Rather, this book suggests someone who has read well and who would be at home in a cultured salon enjoying literary references and intelligent conversation with others of like mind who happens not to take matters of faith and belief very seriously. And while I must admit that this is not the sort of person I am, the author is at least someone who strikes me as someone who would be civil and urbane, and in a world where civility is endangered and where the lack of education and wit is celebrated, this book is a welcome fresh air in that light as well. If you enjoy references to desire that are couched as celebrations of Renaissance or classical culture, this book certainly has a lot to offer as a collection of poems.