Love Letters from an Arsonist | Critical Book Review

Love Letters from an Arsonist by David van den Berg delves into the shadows of the South and delivers a stark critique of distorted notions of God. Samantha Hui explores the depths of this April Gloaming Publishing poetry book, revealing its haunting themes and impactful structure.

A Bleak World with a Whisper of Hope

“so next time you question why / the south is full of / lonesome / ghosts/ remember tall Hatuey / who burned alive and for his / trouble / now lives as a / brand of / cigars”

While Love Letters from an Arsonist paints a somber picture of the world, it subtly craves hope and optimism. Berg’s writing encapsulates the haunting and rage characteristic of Southern Gothic, weaving together ghosts, history, and personal experiences.

Epistles Unveiling Southern Legends

Salt River Blues

“if my heart was a womb i’d sow it with salt and lye / so naught would grow but tumbleweeds”

The three sections, titled Epistles, unfold tales in “Salt River Blues,” introducing readers to Grandma Voodoo, Carcosa, and well-dwelling witches. The title poem, “love letters from an anarchist,” presents a poignant narrative of a father’s fiery sacrifice and the emergence of resilient “pinecone sons.”

The Midnight Mass

“so when the good book tells you that when the end of days comes we will perish in flames, don’t believe it, ‘cause fire is the heart of you and the world looks mighty dry to me.”

In “The Midnight Mass,” Berg delivers a biting letter to false prophets, questioning the worth of a God whose followers inflict suffering. This section challenges traditional perspectives, transforming biblical verses into poetic forms and portraying God as a man unaware of the consequences of his actions.

Pinecone Son

“the ocean is deeper than the grave and / i fear drowning less than being alone.”

The final epistle, “Pinecone Son,” ends on a more hopeful note, exploring themes of desire and longing. While acknowledging the seemingly inevitable fate of the subjects, the speaker expresses a yearning for more, defying nihilism.

Lyrical Profundity in Lowercase

Berg’s writing, predominantly in lowercase, imparts a sense of the speaker sharing truths in hushed tones. The collection questions the conventional wisdom that values light over darkness, challenging readers to reconsider the true cost of illumination.

Gritty Beauty and Hidden Corruption

“And if you have that light in you, i ask you now / share it just a little more often / for those like me who live in darkness / and spend our lives without”

Love Letters from an Arsonist navigates the gritty and vulgar aspects of humanity, exposing their inherent beauty. Conversely, it delves into the rich and beautiful, unveiling the corruption and hatred concealed within. The poetry bravely acknowledges the underlying sickness in society, offering a real and raw portrayal of the South’s ghosts. This collection is a must-read for those seeking an unfiltered exploration of the region’s haunting narratives.

PublisherGenrePrint LengthISBN
April Gloaming PublishingPoetry100 pages9781953932174

Love Letters from an Arsonist by David van den Berg delves into the shadows of the South and delivers a stark critique of distorted notions of God. Samantha Hui explores the depths of this April Gloaming Publishing poetry book, revealing its haunting themes and impactful structure. A Bleak World with a Whisper of Hope “so…