Burn This House, Kelly Davio’s debut poetry book, is a collection of close and quiet observations inspired from her religious upbringing. In this work, a reader may see secular life or heavenly miracles, hope or certain doom, the end of what we know or the sweet beginnings of a different world.
Divided into sections, each part of the book is subtitled a word that could be plucked from a Sunday School lesson. (Or at least the Sunday School lessons I remember!) For instance, one section of the book is titled “Sins” and in this part of the collection, the reader will find poems about various transgressions. For example, in the poem “Greed” the narrator traces her personal history with boots, from a child’s pair that had “fat velcro straps” to a pair she buys as a teenager, and then ends with a pair she recently purchased described as “Stretchy, with a high-piled wedge for a heel.” The narrator concludes, with a note of (perhaps, sinful) pride , “The price the sum/of my other pairs’ combined, I take a small joy/in wearing them out in the rain, stamping them/in puddles that form on the pavement of a rainy city/where I still wait for snow.”
Another section titled “Virtue” explores moral standards in poems that carry titles such as “Charity” and “Sympathy.” Some poems are narratives that present a specific story illustrating the abstract virtue, while others are more lyrical, including the wonderful “Patience” where an unnamed speaker gives these directions: “When you hear the knock on the back door, wait./Wave a scrap of wood with self-assurance.”
Davio, herself, has said that the book in part was inspired by her childhood. According to a recent blogpost, Davio explains, “I grew up in a curious way. My family was intensely religious, but their religious views were always changing, and we never stayed in any one church or branch of faith for all that long; our beliefs in my formative childhood years were always in flux, and in my young mind, I was quite confused and fearful.” Indeed, Biblical references abound, sometimes with religious figures such as ministers and nuns meandering through poems, sometimes in Biblical stories intertwined with personal narratives. For instance, in the poem, “Sympathy,” the narrator tells the story of Leah and Rachel in a juxtaposition exploring her own relationship with a sister.
I need to make clear that Davio’s collection is not preachy. A reader will not find poetic rants full of religious self-assurance. On the other hand, there’s no real evidence that the narrators found in this book find spiritual enlightenment. (Even in the section titled “Revelation” — the revelations from the narrators are quiet and often, a bit unsure) Indeed, if anything, these poems are questions — questions about both our physical surroundings and the spiritual world we may never really understand.
Davio’s work was new to me and indeed this collection was recommended to me by poet Jeannine Hall Gailey (who, by the way, always has some great recommendations for my poetry reading list!) In a year, where I have inundated with new poetry collections, Burn This House, will certainly be one of my top picks for 2013!
For more information about Burn This House, check out Davio’s website.