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Links to Reviews | Link to a First Book Interview (Dec. 2008)


Lesley Wheeler reviews Ashes in Midaiar for VALPARAISO POETRY REVIEW: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics:


Ron Slate reviews Ashes in Midair on his blog, in the Reviews and Commentary section:



Larry Bradley reviews Ashes in Midair for The Yalobusha Review, the literary magazine of the University of Mississippi:



Ron Smith reviews Ashes in Midair for




2007 Poetry Book Contest Winner selected by Yusef Komunyakaa

Ashes in Midair by Susan Settlemyre Williams

"Susan Settlemyre Williams’s Ashes in Midair is a marvelous book that, at times, seems almost epic. This poet maps the elemental and the essential side-by-side, and we are drawn into the necessary fabric of these sonorous revelations. Here, opposites seem to serve each other; they make each other almost sacred. Though the poems in Ashes in Midair often excavate the otherworldly, this poignant collection also keeps us faithful to the business of this world. From first poem to last, from basic hunger to the heightened fire located in earthy desire, the moments of surrealism and shaped dualism throughout this wonderful body of work abide in leaps of faith. The accrued, urgent, penetrating beauty in these poems is a gift."

—Yusef Komunyakaa



"Ashes in Midair is a four part confessional without the box, lucid monsoon of emotional harmonies, x-ray scenarios, sinister cages, racing headless between life and death, voice and shadow. Her poems read like wicked tarot prophesy, a space where entering names in a book might save one from discovering that the face of God is never a human face. Williams is truly a Queen of Wands!”

—Tim Z. Hernandez, Author of Skin Tax,

Winner of the American Book Award



“Her poems the stuff of ‘earth and nightmares,’ Susan Settlemyre Williams’s greatest gift is in controlling myriad disorientations, her renderings of even fear and madness becoming darkly beautiful translations of human experience. Ashes in Midair is a splendid, wholly mesmerizing volume.”

— Claudia Emerson, author of Late Wife, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry



"Few debut collections can claim the confidence of Susan Settlemyre Williams’s. With immense technical swagger and a nerviness that never overpowers her considerable empathy and elegiac tenderness, Williams investigates both the domestic and the strange. She is above all a spiritual writer, and—like the best such writers—understands that gnosis arrives as much through desecration as through piety. Ashes in Midair is a stirring, engrossing, and haunted book."

—David Wojahn, author of Interrogation Palace: New and Selected Poems, 1982-2004



How many poets are able to sift the human spirit from the ashes? In Susan Williams’ beautiful first book, even the ghostly presences felt in a world’s world of dangers are made our intimates. What is personal is offered up with such close attention that, poem after poem, we find ourselves nodding “yes.” Her fables deliver the concomitant mysteries of appearance and disappearance; they unveil the shadow of the predator while revealing the fierceness with which we long to come to terms with its purposes. These poems remind us that every work of art, even art that acknowledges despair is, ultimately, an act of hope.

—Jeffrey Levine



"The mythic and the modern speak to each other in these poems, and sometimes shout, wrestling and clinching and breaking away. Our times and all times think they have places for women—holes to bury them, pedestals to raise them again invisible, newly enveloped in patinas fashioned to be inescapable—while the work here is to break free, to answer back every time in language that strikes hammer blows from within and without. In Susan Settlemyre Williams’s writing, an earthquake drums the underworld, the empty eye is filled, and another resurrection begins, Ashes in Midair."

Gregory Donovan
author of Calling His Children Home, senior editor of Blackbird




May 14, 2008
Recently Read

“Ashes in Midair” by Susan Settlemyre Williams (Many Mountains Moving Press, $15.95)

Williams worries constantly at that stitched-up place in the psyche where the secret can become the sacred. The book’s first poem, “Codes for Hunger,” erupts in the reader like childhood trauma, reverberating all the way through the volume, from the ambivalent terrors of youth to the clouded panics of dementia. We move from childhood’s hurricanes of dread and delight to maturity’s often sterile control, where “color [is] sealed inside” and where we must train ourselves to “increments of pain.” In the unforgettable first section, the speaker sometimes squirms in her own telling. (“About Glass” and “Slug Story” might inspire nightmares.) The squirming in these admirably wrought poems is both psychologically apt and artistically cunning.

Williams knows that the daylight mind is not enough to sustain us. Her book is interpenetrated with forms of Christianity that allow our pagan underpinnings to show through. We share experiences with eccentrics who turn animal skulls into folk art or claim to grow a second head, with witches, voodoo masters, fortune tellers and the just plain cracked.

Like her hoodoo priestess Marie Leveau, Williams doesn’t “mess with pink love candles.” She gives us no sweet, predictable, hackneyed verse. Williams, like Leveau, becomes a true “flute for the spirit.” And, young or old, broken or whole, keening or crooning, isn’t that what our bodies should be? — Ron Smith











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