Divine Fire by David Woo
How to find wisdom and spiritual sustenance in a time of crisis and uncertainty? In Divine Fire, David Woo answers with poems that move from private life into a wider world of catastrophe and renewal. The collection opens in the most personal space, a bedroom, where the chaotic intrusions of adulthood revive the bafflements of childhood. The perspective soon widens from the intimacies of love to issues of national and global import, such as race and class inequality, and then to an unspoken cataclysm that is, by turns, a spiritual apocalypse and a crisis that could be in the news today, like climate change or the pandemic. In the last part of the book, the search for ever-vaster scales of meaning, both sacred and profane, finds the poet trying on different personas and sensibilities—comic, ironic, earnest, literary, self-mythologizing—before reaching a luminous détente with the fearful and the sublime. The divine fire of lovers fading in memory—“shades of the men in my blood”—becomes the divine fire of a larger spiritual reckoning. In his new book of poems, Woo provides an astonishing vision of the world right now through his exploration of timeless themes of love, solitude, art, the body, and death.
I expect David Woo to be one of the two or three poets of his generation. Divine Fire is even more wise, eloquent, and light-bringing than was The Eclipses. David Woo now writes the poems of our climate, in the tradition of Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, and Elizabeth Bishop.
—Harold Bloom, author of The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness
and the American Sublime
and the American Sublime
The grace with which David Woo’s poems transform knowledge, as in insight and learning, into form and feeling and then back again into transformed knowledge is just astonishing.
—Vijay Seshadri, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of 3 Sections
Divine Fire is even better than The Eclipses, praising which I pretty much used up my store of superlatives. It’s funnier, sexier, wiser, more grief-stricken, more profoundly literary, more personal without ever once stooping to mere revelation. It makes me think of that remark of Mallarmé’s about all earthly existence belonging in a book―or, as tweaked by Merrill in ‘The Book of Ephraim,’ ‘the world was made to end (pour aboutir)/ in a slim volume.’ In fact, a very apt comparison can be made with ‘Ephraim,’ despite their obvious differences: it feels more and more, with each rereading, like an entire life, ‘a sea to swim in,’ one I sense I will never quite get to the bottom of, or want to.
—Daniel Hall, author of Under Sleep
David Woo’s quietly magisterial, wide-rangingly allusive second book of poems Divine Fire stations us like the man Kafka imagined in front of a mirror containing all of the world’s wisdom, but unlike that man who “desired…to ensure…the silvering” properties of the mirror would last—a kind of fool’s errand—, Wooshows us a way through the chimera of the world’s wisdom to a “real life…mirror…nailed to the ceiling” of “some red-velvet motel,” beneath which we move achingly aware of “all those limbs” before us, with us, that have knotted and unknotted in the “art of becoming another.” What we see in the “real life” mirror is not world wisdom but a divine fire that both makes and destroys us so that “what remains is something wee,/ wee and oh-so-sempiternal, the self/ unselfing another, world without end.”
—Michael Collier, author of My Bishop and Other Poems
The son of immigrants from China, DAVID WOO was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. His first collection of poetry, The Eclipses, won the A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize. Woo’s work has been widely published in magazines such as the New Yorker, the New Republic, and the Threepenny Review and in anthologies such as the Library of America’s American Religious Poems and The Open Boat: Poems from Asian America.