A Review of Gail Langstroth's "firegarden / jardín-de-fuego" by Daniela Buccilli

firegarden / jardín-de-fuego by Gail Langstroth 
Get Fresh Books, 2020

“These times / so weary / have a flow.”
--Gail Langstroth on the phone with Daniela Buccilli

Quarantine has had me in an ocean. Secretly, I’m worried I have forgotten how to utter language. I miss chewing on words. On the other hand, I have been reading. Every floor of my three-story townhouse has at least one book that I've started. Different books, different rooms. Roaming from room to room, I read them, pretending purpose. I read them as if they were each a bowl of nuts. I sample; gorge. Books about history, a book about an Ohioan blue jay, now Trethewey's memoir, an older sweeping novel by Alvarez, and poetry, poetry everywhere! Among the scatter, it has been Langstroth’s book that calls me back to reread.

In a way that the other books don’t, Gail Langstroth's debut collection firegarden/ jardín-de-fuego (Get Fresh Books, 2020) opens a channel in my conscience. I’m not in the mood for concrete, grounded work, right now. I want to be launched out of this place into multiple possibilities all at once.

What I'm trying to say is read firegarden/ jardín-de-fuego! Read it for how the English / Spanish sounds, poems, invite you in, work in you; how the poems leave you savoring new words, uttering them aloud: unbornness / unexpectancy / mud-fire / speech flesh, and; how each poem converses with the whole collection. How the “bat / murciélago” in the opening poem prepares you for the chords in the “big goat, fern feather, bruised apple rolling” of a later poem. It’s a party for wordaphiles. There’s a mingling between the poem in English that faces the Spanish, and vice a versa. You’ll ask, which one is the translation? She writes in both languages. She translates herself. Which poem came first? Or were they born as one?

In order for these short, condensed poems to emerge, you’ll read slowly. Time might allow it.
Langstroth’s poem “one / uno,” in sculpted brevity leads us to a place only to “ unpack / begin to look in // the one act / you can do / anywhere.” Is this poem about freedom? Which is to say these brief poems suggest gestures of transcendence. Which is to say the book’s a wild ride.

Langstroth and I know each other through Madwomen in the Attic workshops. After she won the Patricia Dobler Poetry Prize at Carlow University, she decided Pittsburgh was the place she wanted to live. Honestly, I couldn't believe that a woman who had lived all over the world would settle in a small city with a shy self-esteem. It was the first time, but not the last time that she would shift my sense of possibility. For instance, though I called her to ask about her book, she asked me the first question.

GL: Of the poems in the book, which one melts into you, awakens something that is uniquely you?
DB: The first time I read your book I was struck by “the cycladic harpist sits.” When I turned to the notes in the back and found out what the word cycladic means, the emptiness conjured by the poem became more—a place for the dead to enter. I’m still pondering the resonance of that vastness.

The title poem is also a favorite of mine. Over the phone, Langstroth recited it for me. Note, she recited it by memory. Because the movement art Eurythmy is another one of Langstroth’s arts, she performs her poems, knows them by heart. The sounds of words, in languages, (she speaks three) assonance, consonance, these are some of the tools she works with. As a poet she says her process is of tasting/feeling sounds, “feel what ash means // its weight / and soot body broken . . . siente lo que ceniza significa // su peso / y hollín cuerpo roto.” Language is movement for Langstroth. The poem, while still on the page is “dance frozen in print. It must be spoken, moved, celebrated in order to release the life pulse inherent within it.”

DB: What is the poem for you?
GL: Poems are pillars in the temple of my life, crystallizations of an experience, attempts at a
translation of something heard, seen, felt. As the Greek word poiema refers to a thing made and the German word Gedicht indicates a thickening, the poem is a moment of drawing together, of making.

In her poems, Langstroth travels from Barranco, Peru, San Lorenz, Brazil, to a hotel in the Castilian landscape of Spain, or to her neighbor’s front porch in Pittsburgh. At each place she attends to an unveiling: Peruvian Turkey Buzzards, Gallinazos, shit on the yellow church steeple; monkey screams bulldoze the jungle; a cathedral spire tattoos its shadow into her right ring finger; the drooped red bow of her neighbor’s Christmas wreath, still graces the front door in March.

DB: What is your desire with respect to the book ?
GL: That readers fall in love with language. That they will be reminded that language is sacred,
physical, and mysterious.

DB: How do you recommend reading or experiencing your book?
GL: Joyously.

Open Langstroth’s debut (or watch a video poem online), you will see what I mean. Read, speak, get up and dance. Celebrate that words exist. And when we are ready to talk to each other again, face to face, we will remember how. As Langstroth indicates in the last poem of the book, her anvil is ready, “come build me apart.” Maybe that is what happens. We can rest on her anvil-poems and build.

See what you can hear; know that tomorrow the same lines will offer you something new. You might do what I did, and leave firegarden / jardín-de-fuego out for sampling as you wait, with me, to talk again at a bar, across a table. In the meantime, enjoy the music of Langstroth’s poems. It’s getting me in shape for the world that’s coming.

Click to watch a video of Gail Langstroth's one / uno and bat / murcielago.

Order Gail Langstroth's "firegarden / jardín-de-fuego" here.

Daniela Buccilli's poetry chapbook is What it Takes to Carry (Main Street Rag). Her poems can be found in Coal River Review, Paterson Literary Review, Cimarron Review, Cider Press Review, and Italian Americana. She holds degrees in teaching and writing from Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, and Carlow University. She has co-edited an upcoming anthology Show Us Your Papers. She teaches high school.