A couple of months ago, my friend Tinu approached me about helping review and publicize her debut poetry collection. I hadn’t heard from her since college and, while I was swamped with grad school work at the time, couldn’t say no. What’s the point of having being involved in the online bookish community if you can’t use your platform to support the creative endeavors of your friends?
It’s been a long time coming, but a short break between grad school semesters has given me the chance to sit down with the collection and pull together some thoughts. This is by no means a comprehensive review, but I hope you get a sense for what the poems are about. I had so much fun digging into them.
I hope you enjoy my scattered thoughts!
Twirling in the Flames is a collection of poetry and prose about individuals living through the human experiences of love, discomfort and tragedy. The collection takes an unapologetic look at the reality that the human condition is nothing if not an emotional journey, and explores the power of love, and what it does to those who stumble into its grip. The pieces in this literary debut are choreographed to share the profundity of everyone’s dance through the fire that life invariably puts in our paths, and to remind us all that we are more fireproof than we think.
The poems in this collection are honest and heartfelt. Bello’s writing is simple and elegant. Her words are easy to sink into; I read several poems each day and they always lingered in my mind after I put the book down. Revisiting my favorites for the purpose of this write-up, I was struck by how relatable they are. I saw myself in the poems–my thoughts, feelings, and experiences reflected back to me.
My favorite thing about these poems are their transparency. Bello invites her readers to join her journey. By opening her heart to us, she gives us the opportunity to feel. She challenges us to lean into our hurts, our darkness, our hard questions.
Right from the start, Bello positions herself as a voice for those who have none. In the opening poem, she writes:
But this is my métier
To let you, for a moment, walk in our shoes
I speak for me, for him, and for them
For us who left words unsaid.
In sharing her struggles through these poems, Bello hopes to give others the courage to speak. This theme emerges throughout the collection, which is split into three sections: “Emote”, “Love and Her Antithesis”, and “Utterance”. Of the three, I found the third section the strongest. This is where Bello moves beyond her own experiences and actually voices the stories of others. These poems center on abuse and are hard to read, but beautiful.
Here are some of my favorites, so if you pick up a copy of Twirling in the Flames, be sure to check them out:
- “Before Monday Comes”: This poem is about the freedom the weekend gives for “not holding it together / And not having the need to”. It’s about taking off the masks we wear throughout the week and embracing our inner messes. It reminded me that I’m not the one who feels like I’m barely holding it together most days. The last line is my favorite: “It is for being”. What a refreshing prospect, to embrace the mess and simply be.
- “Dichotomy”: I love the simplicity of this poem. It’s short, sparse, but cuts right to the point. It’s about walking the fine line of vulnerability–how much of ourselves should we reveal to others? How much is too much? What if we share more than we’re comfortable, but the person (in this case, one’s beloved) still leaves? I don’t show much of my inner self to the world, so I related to these questions.
- “Flammable”: The best way I can describe this poem is it is about the overwhelming intensity of being attracted to someone. I love the lines: “Love is a fire / I want to be warm / But I’m not ready to burn”. Bello beautifully captures the duality of desire and fear that comes with the possibility of falling in love.
- “Ashes”: This poem is about the pain of being used and betrayed by someone and finding God in the aftermath. While I’m pretty sure Bello intends it to be about the fallout of a failed romance, it can be interpreted through the lens of any kind of relationship. This was one of the poems where I saw my own experiences reflected back at me. I’ve “served my heart on a platter of gold” and had friendships blow up in my face anyway. But, as Bello describes at the poem’s end, God picks us up, dusts us off, and molds something beautiful from our brokenness.
- “Me Too”: This might be my favorite poem in the whole collection. It’s a timely response to the cultural movement against sexual abuse and perfectly aligns with the collection’s aim to give others the courage to speak. As we know from the way the hashtag spread on Twitter like wildfire, the phrase “Me Too” is powerful. It’s short, to the point, and speaking it opens women to the reality that we are not alone. What I love most about this poem is how Bello simultaneously captures the progress of the movement, mourns the silenced women who did not get the chance to speak, and points to progress that still must be made. The lines, “The words some screamed… Screams we didn’t hear… Because they scream / From six feet beneath” haunt me. It’s a reminder of all the violated women who came before, the women whose voices were not heard. When women say “Me too”, we do not just speak of our own experiences. We speak for all the women throughout history who could not speak for themselves. Sexual misconduct has been happening since the dawn of time and what a marvelous thing to live in an era when, culturally, such behavior is finally being called out as unacceptable. I’m thankful for all the women who have shared their “Me too” stories and thankful for this poem.
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