Fireproofing the Woods
The title of Katy McKinney's poetry book Fireproofing the Woods at first suggests an impossible, foolish undertaking: doesn't it contradict the first thing we learn about wood, that it burns? Before I even turned the first page, it seemed a metaphor for the despair that many of us feel about global warming and other environmental crises that have reached a tipping point in our lifetime.
Yet McKinney's poem of the same name, the second in this collection, reveals that she's describing a practical, specific activity—albeit one that may be insufficient to preserve the local ecosystem as she's always known it. In the poem, the speaker's husband is clearing the dead and dying trees from their land to reduce the risk of summertime forest fires, as he does every spring. The wife, on the other hand, regrets the loss of habitat for the woodpeckers, who are attracted to old trees because of the bugs that swarm on decaying wood.
This conflict is a microcosm of the paradoxical and complex choices we face as the planet's dominant species. The good that we try to do in one area, from forestry to "humanitarian" wars, unintentionally causes harm elsewhere. McKinney wisely realizes she doesn't need to spell this message out. The other poems naturally assemble the pieces of this puzzle.
The book's second section shifts focus to her sister's sudden death from cancer. It is hard to write about such a personal and much-discussed subject in a fresh, artful, unsentimental way. McKinney pulls it off. The incisive, original poem "Cancer Shoplifted a Bushmaster XM-15" analogizes the shock of her sister's diagnosis to the contemporaneous Washington, DC sniper murders in 2002. Fireproof the woods though we may, there are some natural perils we can't avoid. We can, however, hold our society accountable for the pollution and violence that add to the toll of unnatural deaths.
The third section lacks such a consistent thematic focus, though it contains some lovely poems about awe-inspiring natural phenomena, from the majestic ("Scientists Discover Singing Iceberg in Antarctica") to the humble ("Worm Bin Sestina", a past Winning Writers prizewinner). McKinney enjoys playing with poetic forms; sestinas, sonnets, a haibun, and an abecedarium show her light touch with patterns of sound and meaning.
My co-judge Ellen mused, "Second half was less thematically tight perhaps, but it made me wonder about what seems to be a cultural preference these days for poetry books unified by a specific theme or storyline. Nothing wrong with a specific theme throughout, but I'm thinking a poetry collection can also be justifiably united by style, musicality, etc." By this standard, Fireproofing the Woods succeeds admirably.
The book design was professional, readable, and typo-free. The attractive cover was indistinguishable from a traditionally published book, featuring a vibrant abstract painting that suggested a landscape undergoing upheaval. We were excited to discover this fine collection and hope its timely message reaches many readers.
Buy Fireproofing the Woods from the author's website