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.
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