My idea of poetry stems largely from high school English class, sloughing through sonnets and unpleasantly dense prose. When I picked up Sparks of Phoenix it was in an exercise to see if I could break the preconception that required reading had instilled in me about poetry, poets, and what a person could take away from a collection of poetry.
I was not disappointed.
Let’s take a look at Sparks of Phoenix, by Najwa Zebian.
As the phoenix emerges from its ashes, Zebian emerges ablaze in these pages, not only as a survivor of abuse, but as a teacher and healer for all those who have struggled to understand, reclaim, and rise above a history of pain. With her characteristic vulnerability, courage, and softness, Zebian seeks to empower those who have been made to feel ashamed, silenced, or afraid; she urges them, through gentle advice and personal revelation, to raise their voices, rise up, and soar.
The First Poem
Sparks of Phoenix is a journey. An experience. It’s a conversation with a friend who knows that you already have the strength to pull yourself out of the dark–you just need a little help to get there. Maybe the person speaking in the poems is you. Maybe it’s a version of you. Coming to the end feels like living through a lifetime, and I could see myself written out in the poems that populate Sparks of Phoenix’s 242 pages.
You start Sparks of Phoenix at the beginning of the healing process before the healing has begun. You start it at the inception, where the trauma took its genesis. This is important because as the prologue suggests, you cannot heal without going back there to the place that started it. This section, entitled The Burning, is thirty-six pages of where it starts in beautiful yet straight-forward lines of poems that feel unfiltered and raw.
When reading, it was like going through a collection of thoughts, jotted down over time. There was nothing there to suggest that any of the poems were overthought or overworked to force meaning into them, but they were all undeniably meaningful and thoughtful. There’s a sense of realization, of real-time working through abuse while also feeling reflective and in re-reading several of the poems in this section, it’s not hard to pinpoint emotions and events that correlate with what Zebian has written. She’s masterful at writing her story while also managing to write yours without losing any of the personal experience that went into the creation of these poems.
Structure is the Key
The Burning, Turning to Ashes, Sparks of Phoenix, The Rising, The Soaring, A New Chapter–the six divisions of the collection–are apt descriptions for each of the book’s sections as it takes you from beginning to end to new beginnings in the wake of trauma and abuse. Rather than being mere labels for organization’s sake, they serve as the vehicle for the collection’s overall theme–trauma, healing, and rebirth, are all a part of a cycle. While most of the poems don’t refer directly to the Phoenix mythos, there’s the definite overtone even as poems within the same sections sometimes go around in a cycle within their stage before you’re swept over to the next section of the book. There’s an arc to the collection that suggests that this is okay–that there’s nothing linear about life, let alone healing, and there’s nothing quite linear about this collection, either.
I think this is what makes my favorite section, A New Chapter, the most heart-hitting of the sections. With moving on and moving into new relationships and even new phases of life after trauma, many people often think that the only way you go is up. But there’s dips and crags in the upward walk that Sparks of Phoenix not only tackles but validates.
I have been soaring
for a while now,
and I am afraid
of burning again.Sparks of Phoenix, pg. 212, Najwa Zebian
I think it’s collections like this that can make people fall in love with poetry. The imagery, when it’s there, is strong. The emotion in each poem comes through with every line and turn of phrase. All in all, I’m glad that my first dive back into poetry was done with this book.
Big thank you to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for a copy of Sparks of Phoenix.
Sparks of Phoenix is for you if: you like sharply written poetry, enjoy uplifting and empowering writing, have enjoyed Najwa Zebian’s previous works Mind Platter and The Nectar of Pain.
Sparks of Phoenix releases on March 5th
As always, thank you for reading and I hoped you enjoyed the review~