Book Review: "Those Who Favor Fire, Those Who Pray to Fire" by Justin Karcher & Ben Brindise

Book Review: "Those Who Favor Fire, Those Who Pray to Fire" by Justin Karcher & Ben Brindise

If there was ever a collaboration of two writers who’ve bled the heart of Buffalonian poetry, those two souls would be Justin Karcher and Ben Brindise. 

In Those Who Favor Fire, Those Who Pray to Fire, their depictions go beyond the realm of Rustbelt landscape and become something else entirely, something magical and death-defying. Like so much of their work, …Fire is a bridge that connects the personal with the societal.

Ben Brindise
Picture an advertisement for Buffalo. Then picture that advertisement doing something polar opposite to its goal: telling the truth. Ben’s use of imagery and reference is a personal billboard of perspective. Each poem is written in tribute to lost places, people and things that exist within self-reflection. One of the best examples of this comes from the poem, “to burn a tree from the roots up”:

“sometimes I take walks
I don’t post about on facebook
or write into poems
around a city I should know more about
but don’t
I think about kicking the corner stone
of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s childhood home
see how loose it is, see if I can really
leave a scar on this city.” [5] 

In just this stanza alone, readers can catch a glimpse at these attempts: attempts to bring solace to one’s detriment. Another poem in sync with this theme is “7 a.m. in buffalo”:

“...I have this feeling that if I close my eyes
and let go of the wheel
I’d end up crashed into something that someone
would have taken a picture of
and hashtagged

the flames would eat up the rust
on the side of my car
and in my dying moments
I’d think about some weird metaphor
for the steel industry…” [30]

The poem goes on to connect a personal soliloquy with local headline news. Ben’s poetry is more of a fist fight between perseverance and submission, and there are no wins, or losses – just constant draws. 

Justin Karcher
If there has ever been a poet who has embodied the spirit of Buffalo, that very spirit would be exhumed from Justin Karcher. His work, much like Ben’s, bridges a similar gap between personal soliloquy and local headline news. The imagery in Ben’s work is more powerful in its use of simplicity, but Justin pours in two or three tanks worth of aesthetic exhaust fuel into his imagery. There is a certain mysticism to Justin’s work that binds so well with Ben’s.

Justin pieces together the reflection of environment from one’s own existential crisis. You can picture yourself walking with him, conversing with him, etc. Whether it’s joining him in smoke circles or Delaware Park strolls, he brings out tainted magic from the dark cauldrons of imagination. One of the poems that best describes this is the third poem in Justin’s section, “your melancholy is straight out of an Edith Pilaf song”:

“…and yet there are nights I want to remember
nights I want to kiss you in the glow
of the Buffalo State Hospital
where the phantoms of psychosis are held down
by the giants of memory
where birds of feelings
are always crashing into invisible windows
and their little bodies Hindenburg out of the sky
until the ground is littered with what appears to be
dry, dead leaves…” [41]

In a way, Justin dabbles in bruised hometown fabulism, a language that throws a haymaker with every line. Another poem on point with this is “picking fruits off the sick future”:

“…cause she suddenly turned around
like she felt the touch of a ghost
but it was just the smell of lilacs from a nearby bush
she told me lilacs remind her of the south
of growing up as a military brat
of these gilded manors as big as the sun
ladies who would apply lipstick to the dirt
to make it pretty

I looked at her straight in her stoned eyes
and told her we’re always on our hands and knees
always trying to glamourize the world beneath our feet…” [46]

Whether it’s favoring or praying to fire, each section is a culmination of constant tending before a fire burns away the life of words. From beginning to end, every poem is just another attempt at survival through a wasteland conjured from beautiful, desolate observation. At the risk of going on endlessly with the praise of literary giants, if there is one thing this poetry collection does: it gives you the virtual tour of a city through lenses you may not want to peak through. However, you will soon learn this atlas is more than the imagery of one solitary city, but a broken nation still trying to find its fragments, one individual journey at a time.

You can purchase Those Who Favor Fire, Those Who Pray to Fire from the publisher, EMP Books, as well as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.

Photography: Thicket of Trash by Lydia Renee Armstrong

Photography: Thicket of Trash by Lydia Renee Armstrong

Poetry: One Poem by Gervanna Stephens

Poetry: One Poem by Gervanna Stephens