cover image Flammable Matter

Flammable Matter

Jacob Victorine. Elixir (SPD, dist.), $17 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-932418-59-0

“Lift each name that floats beyond/ its margins and tether it back to spine,” writes performance poet Victorine as he takes on the uncomfortable and misunderstood subject of self-immolation in his chilling debut collection: “I write without permission—miles and bodies mounting in fonts.” Victorine forces readers to look eye-to-eye with those who have, for a variety of personal or political reasons, fallen under the spell of flame. He forges poems from an eclectic variety of true accounts from around the world, emphasizing that “luck is just another word for distance.” The few Americans of whom he writes include human rights activist Malachi Ritscher and comedian Richard Pryor. Non-Americans form the bulk of the work: Moshe Silman, a peaceful Israeli anarchist; Zarmina, a Pashtun abuse victim; Tsering Kyi, a young Tibetan woman; and multiple accounts of monks. Quotes from less-than-sympathetic commentators are interspersed throughout and make for stirring counterpoint (“Set fire to yourself or don’t. Either way, nobody will remember your cause/ twenty-four hours later”). Also noteworthy is the sobering appendix of over 60 source materials that Victorine appropriated, adapted, and used for inspiration. This is a timely and heartfelt work of documentary poetics; Victorine successfully opens “a space for empathy” and honors those no longer here. (May)