APRIL 2006


The Composer Steps into the Fire (2004) is one of the only poetry books resting on my bookshelf, which is a testament to just how good it is. Primarily a consumer of fiction, I don’t read much in the way of poetry, but Kerschbaum’s second collection of poems simply draws one in with ease. While some of it is narrative and free verse – perhaps two of the most inviting poetic traits – I won’t pretend I know much about the mechanics of poetry. However, I do know that I enjoyed this compendium and have read it several times over.

I like a well-organized book, and The Composer Steps into the Fire is a well-organized book. It’s divided into four sections, with a name for each, plus the layout provides breathing room for each poem, sketch, and break. In addition to the poems, Nicole Yalowitz contributed illustrations to this compilation – which please the eye, though the incorporation of sketches, perhaps above all, provides respite from staring at text the entire time. Of course the drawings reference the poems in regards to title or a specific line that appears within, reminding me in that respect of George Saunders’s The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (Riverhead Books, 2005).

As far as the material itself goes – besides a truckload of interesting titles such as “We Touch Like Cripples,” “You Can Sleep in My Mouth,” “Striking Matches Underwater,” and others – there’s a lot to like. With The Composer Steps into the Fire reaching 100 pages, you’ll find plenty of tasteful simile, vivid imagery, and just plain good storytelling. In example, one such simile – nesting in “You’re All Over the Floor” – is nothing short of brilliant: “Flakes of your skin and hair wander around in the stale sunlight like lost tourists.” Also for instance, Kerschbaum’s lively handling of imagery occurs in “Jars” when he says, “We watched those jars shine as if we had captured God’s tears.” And the social poignancy of “How I Am (1 of 29)” cannot be denied.

Running past the constraints of formula and traditionalism, Kerschbaum’s poetry is far from standard in regards to format, structure, and subject matter. With such captivating artwork in place, the material itself is invariably strengthened and made all the more real, capable of being visualized as Yalowitz has proved. So yeah, The Composer Steps into the Fire is a very solid collection, and his follow-up Dead Stars Have No Graves – which is being aptly released on April 7th – has quite a bit of ground to cover if it wants to trump its predecessor. Needless to say, I have high expectations for it.

> BIOGRAPHY | about the author

Jason Jordan is many things. He is staff reviewer for this magazine. He was the host of the BEAN STREET READING SERIES. He was an editor of The IUS Review. He has been a featured writer at the Tuesday Night Reading Series in Evansville, Indiana. His writing appears in THE EDWARD SOCIETY and THE2NDHAND. He teaches college writing to college students. He will be going on tour this summer to promote his forthcoming novel, Powering the Devil's Circus, tentatively scheduled for release on 06/06/06. He is a writer.