Caitlin Scarano, The Necessity of Wildfire

THE NECESSITY OF WILDFIRE, Caitlin Scarano. Blair, Durham, North Carolina, 2022, 78 pages, $16.95 paper,

I have to tell you that I fell hard for this book. I was cobbling together my Escape Into Life review of Ada Limón’s The Hurting Kind, and came across an announcement about the Elliott Bay book launch of The Necessity of Wildfire, 2022 winner of the Wren Poetry Prize, selected by Limón. The recording of the event, featuring both poets, is available here, and at Scarano’s website.

The book has now won a 2023 Pacific Northwest Book Award, well deserved. As Limón describes it:

“Hungry, clear-eyed, tough, and generous…. Cinematic and sound-driven, these are brilliant and honest personal poems that open up to the larger universal truths.”

So, let me try to tell you about my experience, reading The Necessity of Wildfire. Scarano’s second book, it braids together multiple themes: childhood dangers, adult love and trauma, domestic violence, illness, animals (both scary and beloved), and landscape, landscape, landscape. Cacophony, euphony, lines that want to be spoken aloud: “Who made my wrists / of wire. Copper conductors of heat / and electricity. Think of the synaptic / dance, jaw loose daze…” (“A Poem to Multiple Men”).

At times the voice is matter-of-fact, telling a story, but the themes get twisted together like a braid, or like a wire with razor sharp edges. Consider as an example, the opening lines of this poem:

I am driving by a field. Mountains crusted with a gold decay
surround me. My mother called yesterday; they finally have
a diagnosis. In the field I notice a cow on her side,
a trembling mass. Sick paternal aunts and cousins
I’ve never met. I get out of the car and move toward the wire
fence. Inherited autosomal recessive mutation.

(from “Calf”)

Scarano grew up in Southside Virginia (which I had to look up) and now lives near Bellingham, Washington. Along the way, she’s studied in Alaska, and Antarctica. She has a scientist’s eye, and a humanitarian’s mission: “To not harm  / each other is not enough” she writes in “The houses where they eat the lambs,” continuing with these provocative lines:

I want to love you
so much you have no before. No mother,

no bower, no history of burning doors.

The sea with her rising wet ash. To be marrow
intimate. A crime committed…

I can see that I will be excerpting the entire book if I keep on. Here’s a poem that I keep rereading, noticing the enjambments, those tricky ends / beginnings of lines that shift the meaning of the words:


What good is a long life? The river smells
of where it comes from

not where it is going. I’ve never lived
by water until this. I grew up between dairy

fields and oak-pine forests. Sisters
hiding behind a crushed

velvet window curtain. Girl,
static, ghost. There was a clock

high on the wall in the living
room. One night, I swear, the sound

grew so loud. My blood’s ticked ever
since. Travel far from where they raised you

and your blood will still burn.
In a dream, the lower half of my body

is buried in snow. The rest scatters
for sky. Along the river, a conspiracy

of crows take up in a white pine. A bevy
of swans follow. The contrast is too much

for the field to contain. Someone asked me
my greatest subject. Shame, I said

without thinking. My lover keeps a folding
knife in the bottom drawer of his dresser.

I like to take it
out when he isn’t here. Dig little

notches into the back of our headboard
with the tip. One for every secret

we or the water withhold.

—Caitlin Scarano

The book, itself, is lovely. I found a copy at my local library, then saw it at Edmonds Bookshop and had to own it. I keep telling people I’ll lend it to them, but I can’t seem to let it go.

Review of Ada Limón’s ‘The Hurting Kind’

I join good company in reviewing poet Ada Limón’s The Hurting Kind — reviews have appeared on NPR, in The Guardian, and The New York Times. I’m honored that EIL (Escape Into Life) offered me an opportunity to add my voice.

To read the review (and visit the wonderful EIL site), click on this link:

You can read my 2021 blogpost about Limon’s Bright Dead Things, here.

While I’m here, I also wanted to remind people that I’ll be reading, along with several other Madrona #3 contributors, at FinnRiver Farm & Cidery, 6:30 p.m., July 14. One day soon, I promise, I’ll have a real blogpost for you.

The amazing ADA LIMÓN

For me, the fun part is just being at home and writing in my sweatpants. And then being like, “I wrote a poem and I like it.” There’s nothing that compares to that. Nothing. Not The New Yorker, not The New York Times. I feel like that’s something that sometimes gets lost in our culture, where everything’s about building a brand before you even have an established creative process. Please, don’t be a poet unless the number one thing you like to do is write poems. And read poems.

–Ada Limón

So much for my New Year’s resolution to avoid buying new books. Somehow, my April blog push led me hither and yon over the entire poetry landscape, and I ended up buying a truckload of books. Among them, Ada Limon’s Bright Dead Things (Milkweed, 2015). Looks like The Carrying is next (winner of the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry).

I have a major poetry-crush on this poet. Not only does she write about horses and honky-tonks (subjects dear to my heart), but dogs, owls, sex, and death. She’s got it all. And language! Oh, my!


I’m cold in my heart, coal-hard
knot in the mountain buried
deep in the boarded-up mine. So,
I let death in, learn to prospect
the between-dreams of the dying,
the one dream that tells you when
to throw up, the other, when
you’re in pain. I tell you
I will love someone that you
will never meet, earth’s warm
breath at the mouth
of the body’s holler.
You are crying in the shower.
I am crying near the shower.
Your body a welcomed-red
fire-starter in steam and I think,
How scared I would be
if I were death. How could I
come to this house, come
to this loved being, see
the mountain’s power
and dare blast you down.
I dry you off and think,
if I were death come to take you,
your real-earth explosives,
I would be terrified.

–Ada Limón, from Bright Dead Things

The sound-play of this, “cold in my heart, coal-hard,” is evident from the first line, but it’s not just play. The words set the stage for much more. This is not a woman you want to cross.

Praise from the back cover: “In Ada Limon’s Bright Dead Things, there’s a fierce jazz and sass (‘this life is a fist / of fast wishes caught by nothing, / but the fishhook of tomorrow’s tug.’) and there’s sadness — a grappling with death and loss that forces the imagination to a deep response. The radio in her new rural home warns ‘stay safe and seek shelter,’ and yet the heart seeks love, risk, and strangeness — and finds it everywhere.” –Gregory Orr