WHAT FIRE is about how to continue as catastrophe crawls in, when the climate crisis has its grip on us all, the internet has been shut down, and the buildings are burning up. What happens when the philosophers never arrive? What songs are still worth singing? In her third collection, Alice Miller takes a fierce, unflinching look at the world we live in, at what we have made, and whether it is possible to change.
Available from Pavilion in the UK, Oxford University Press in the US, Audiatur in Norway, and Unity Books in New Zealand.
Poems from the book can be read online in The New Republic, Poetry Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement, and The Poetry Review.
Alice Miller takes a critical lens to our current malaise, tackling the current decline of our climate and planet to the way technology has both advanced and stunted human civilizations. A collection which feels as if it’s somehow speaking to us all.
In Alice Miller’s What Fire, the legacies of our past and future are ardently exhumed and examined. Miller’s musical, philosophical lines wrangle themes of grief, guilt, climate change, cancer, love, love lost, and war with resonance and insight. By hewing to reality and refusing retreat, Miller’s lyrical conscience emerges as the vehicle for a hard-won hope.
Memory is dicey, but immediacy is always what it is. How superbly Miller catches this endless interweaving, this being caught in a current that is always running before us as well as pursuing us. If I might get away with saying so, how clearly she depicts life’s bucking against the rational as we experience it.
Relationships, geography, friendship, casual indifference to how we live in an environmental sense, the promises and failure of poetry – Miller’s ‘pressure points’ are many, her ground-zero humanism is up against a lot. It is why What Fire is such a demanding and deeply rewarding book. But there is another reason why this book demands attentive reading. Poem by poem, the control, the verbal ‘rightness’, the rhythmic assurance, rise forcefully from the page.
—Vincent O’Sullivan, Landfall
You can write pessimistically but still produce great poetry. That’s the message to take from Alice Miller’s third collection, WHAT FIRE. The expatriate New Zealander, now a resident of Berlin, has a philosophical bent and is concerned with determinism, death, and the limits of free will. Often she uses images of flowing rivers and air travel, passing over terrain seen only fleetingly. That’s life—barely experienced before it’s over. Some poems navitage the negative interactions between men and women. But it’s not all counsels of despair. “Vanishing Point” suggests that love and stable relationships mitigate the approaching darkness. And so does poetry itself. A poem such as “The Goddess of Death” retells a Māori myth with much brio. The title poem is a nightmarish fantasia, with sinister overtones of “night and fog” resonating with recent European history. As with much of Miller’s work, it is both chastening and brilliant.
—Nicholas Reid, The Listener
What Fire is concerned with our capacity to change while examining the world on the point of a precipice. It is successful in its aims and very readable. I enjoy Miller’s specifics, her eye for minutiae. Like [Dom Bury’s] Rite of Passage, it is a collection underwritten with hope; although more human and relatable, it also confronts difficult questions. […] The end is not the end, but a chance to start again.
—Charlie Baylis, Wild Court
Once again Liverpool University Press has printed a gorgeous book full of insight, song, and hope—a middle finger to the doomsayers, the fearmongers, and evil-doers. Alice Miller’s What Fire is a psalms book that can be held in one hand, while the other hand grips the safety rail as the city swirls into catastrophe, all the while whispering infinitesimal assurances. There is wit, loss, and rebirth. There is metaphor, rhyme, and lyric. There is water, fire, and reflection. [..] In these forty-three short poems, What Fire captures whole life cycles. Each poem could stand alone yet somehow collages into a collection that can be muttered as prayer, sung as anthem, or studied for months.
—DM O’Connor, RHINO