by Gudrun Bortman
A Poetry Box Chapbook Prize Selection – Third Place (tie)
My meadow scorched and bleak
without the cooling trees.
Trenches gape, deep as graves, and the garden
chokes under dust and rock.
But there see? There: a sapling thrives,
a seed that rode in on the fire’s wings.
In November 2008, a vicious wildfire swept through Santa Barbara, California, forcing many residents to flee in fear, while wondering what would survive the angry flames. These poems tell that story through one woman’s experience of loss and her resiliency to rebuild in the aftermath of destruction. Above all, this is a story of hope.
About the Author
Gudrun Bortman grew up in Hamburg, Germany and moved to the US in her twenties. She is an artist, a garden designer and a poet. An avid reader, journal and letter writer all her life, love of language led her to poetry. Her poems have been published in Sukoon Literary Magazine, San Pedro River Review, Buzz, Rare Feathers and To Give Life a Shape, books published by Gunpowder Press. She lives in Santa Barbara, California.
What They’re Saying . . .
“Gudrun Bortman’s Fireweed is perhaps the truest, and most eloquent, exploration ever of the quiet resilience necessary to survive California’s devastating and seemingly endless fire weather. In lines that are spare yet vivid, she shows us how to remain ‘bright & miraculous on ash-bare earth.’”
~ David Starkey, Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Emeritus
“Fireweed is a fierce book of immolation and ash-scape, tracing the arc of a disaster in poems that by turns whisper, sing and keen to one another and to us. The delicate china teacup, crisped fragment of needlework, iron goat figurine that remain when all else has burned away, the ‘ghosts of books’ that fall to ashes at a touch: Gudrun Bortman renders these details with a tenderness and precision that take my breath away. Like the literal mosaic she creates from fragments of a life gone, then puts to use as a tabletop, these poems together form a whole that is stunning in both its beauty and its utility. They allow me to trust the penultimate poem’s claim that, in spite of all, ‘there are new layers to be lived.’”
~ Catherine Abbey Hodges, author of Raft of Days
“In her thoughtful and imagistic collection of poems, Fireweed, Gudrun Bortman trains the eye of a devoted naturalist on the way fire is shaping California’s landscapes and the people who inhabit them. Opening the book is a woman documenting profound personal loss in the face of destruction, the moon transformed to ‘a burning coal’ and her home and almost everything in it ‘a pyre.’ Yet, even while mourning, the poet seeks understanding by imagining fire as a murder of crows or even a snake-like being that consumes without discrimination. And she finds resilience in the natural world as well: in the return of finches and bindweed to charred mountain slopes, in the unchanged songs of coyotes at dusk. This book is an important chronicle of how we endure and how we begin anew.”
~ Emma Trelles, author of Tropicalia