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Original Fire
Cover of Original Fire
Original Fire
Selected and New Poems
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A passionate book of poetry from New York Times bestselling author Louise Erdrich.

In this important collection, award-winning author Louise Erdrich has selected poems from her two previous books of poetry, Jacklight and Baptism of Desire, and has added nineteen new poems to compose Original Fire.

"These molten poems radiate with the ferocity of desire, and in them Erdrich does not spin verse so much as tell tales—of betrayal and revenge, of hunting and being hunted."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

A passionate book of poetry from New York Times bestselling author Louise Erdrich.

In this important collection, award-winning author Louise Erdrich has selected poems from her two previous books of poetry, Jacklight and Baptism of Desire, and has added nineteen new poems to compose Original Fire.

"These molten poems radiate with the ferocity of desire, and in them Erdrich does not spin verse so much as tell tales—of betrayal and revenge, of hunting and being hunted."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

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Excerpts-
  • Jacklight

    The same Chippewa word is used both for flirting and hunting game, while another Chippewa word connotes both using force in intercourse and also killing a bear with one's bare hands.

    -- R. W. Dunning, Social and Economic Change Among the Northern Ojibwa (1959)

    We have come to the edge of the woods,
    out of brown grass where we slept, unseen,
    out of knotted twigs, out of leaves creaked shut,
    out of hiding.

    At first the light wavered, glancing over us.
    Then it clenched to a fist of light that pointed,
    searched out, divided us.
    Each took the beams like direct blows the heart answers.
    Each of us moved forward alone.

    We have come to the edge of the woods,
    drawn out of ourselves by this night sun,
    this battery of polarized acids,
    that outshines the moon.

    We smell them behind it
    but they are faceless, invisible.
    We smell the raw steel of their gun barrels,
    mink oil on leather, their tongues of sour barley.
    We smell their mothers buried chin-deep in wet dirt.
    We smell their fathers with scoured knuckles,
    teeth cracked from hot marrow.
    We smell their sisters of crushed dogwood, bruised apples,
    of fractured cups and concussions of burnt hooks.

    We smell their breath steaming lightly behind the jacklight.
    We smell the itch underneath the caked guts on their clothes.
    We smell their minds like silver hammers
    cocked back, held in readiness
    for the first of us to step into the open.

    We have come to the edge of the woods,
    out of brown grass where we slept, unseen,
    out of leaves creaked shut, out of hiding.
    We have come here too long.

    It is their turn now,
    their turn to follow us. Listen,
    they put down their equipment.
    It is useless in the tall brush.

About the Author-
  • Louise Erdrich is the author of fifteen novels as well as volumes of poetry, children's books, short stories, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel The Round House won the National Book Award for Fiction. The Plague of Doves won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and her debut novel, Love Medicine, was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Erdrich has received the Library of Congress Prize in American Fiction, the prestigious PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. She lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 6, 2003
    Though a multiply award-winning novelist, Erdrich (Love Medicine
    , etc.) throughout the 1980s remained committed to verse; poems from Jacklight
    (1984) and Baptism of Desire
    (1989) represent her in many anthologies, some of them focused on Ojibwe heritage. This third book of poems begins with Erdrich's earliest work (much of it indebted to Richard Hugo), moves through a series of prose tales about the long-lived potato-trickster Potchikoo, then opens out into a mix of new and old verse. "All graves are pregnant with our nearest kin," Erdrich writes, and many of her poems regard first and last things—motherhood, family, death and mourning—sometimes as mythical universals, sometimes as they take place on reservations or in cold, forlorn small towns, each with its misfit (like "Step-and-a-Half Waleski") and its patron saint (the sarcastic "Rez Litany," the rapt "Seven Sleepers"). "The relentless throat call/ of physical love," and religions designed to deflect it, animate some of Erdrich's new sequences, which incorporate fairy tales, Christian ritual and reservation lore. Though her stark lines owe much (sometimes too much) to Louise Glück, Erdrich's particular landscapes and affiliations, and her way with myths and talismans, ensure that her poems, new and old, retain strengths all their own. (Oct.)

    Forecast:
    This volume seems designed to work in tandem with Erdrich's next novel,
    The Master Butcher's Singing Club, which shares scenes and characters with "The Butcher's Wife," a poetic sequence included here: expect joint reviews, especially in the upper Midwest, where Erdrich makes her home, and runs a bookstore.

  • Library Journal (starred review)

    "Essential reading for fans of Erdrich's fiction, this volume can be expected to draw poetry readers into the fold."

  • Miami Herald

    "Artistically impressive and highly entertaining."

  • Los Angeles Times Book Review

    "The poems are hypnotic and retain an emphatic passionate fire."

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    HarperCollins
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