Flammable Matter


Flammable Matter


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By looking at self-immolation long enough, Jacob Victorine teaches us how to look. Eventually, we realize that we are looking at ourselves. And this is not solipsistic: it’s what poetry is for. Would you do it? Look at yourself? Write poetry? Set yourself on fire? Dismiss those who do? Flammable Matter teaches us how to expand into those questions, reminding us “These men and women are not depressed.” I think lyric is possibly the only way to conduct this philosophical, spiritual, and political inquiry and because Jacob Victorine’s poetry is so graceful and fine-tuned, the book admits the difficulty of speaking these histories while keeping the focus on the subject—no tricky language games, baroque subterfuge, appropriations in the service of an argument about poetics here. Flammable Matter is a courageous way forward for those who believe that poetry writes the world outside even as it writes the world within. I am going to guess that whatever Jacob Victorine is writing at this moment is something we need to read very soon.

—Jill Magi, author of LABOR


Jacob Victorine’s Flammable Matter reminds us how fragile the individual body is, especially when the body is subjected to the total power of the state.  These are poems that cast their vision into the world and, thankfully, are “unable to look away.”  Victorine’s unsparing documentary eye is matched by a deep commitment to the minute particulars of craft.  It can be tempting to retreat from the external world into art-for-art’s sake, or to retreat from art into agitprop.  But Victorine’s poems insist that the most beautiful songs are those sung with both feet planted on the pavement and our eyes wide open, vulnerable to what is burning.

—Tony Trigilio, author of The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood)


To light oneself on fire: what more absolute way to steer the spotlight? The poems of Flammable Matter extend that bright moment, returning names and language to the world they fled, or lit, or tried to shake. And beyond that, leverages poetry’s great gift of kaleidoscopic perspective to extend the dialogue of commentary, snapshot, and reportage. 

—Marty McConnell, author of wine for a shotgun