Anna Rose Welch, in her remarkable debut We, the Almighty Fires, asks the reader to “Picture a stained glass window shattering / to let loose hymns.” These poems do just that: interrogate, and ultimately, destroy the boundaries between the physical and the holy. Much like Bernini’s The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, Welch shows how both the altar and the bedroom are synonymous landscapes of the sublime: “the altar makes even you feel / both sacred and conquered. We, the patron saints / of unkempt cotton, of friction against a wall.” Welch explores this unflinchingly. She stares into the face of trauma, violence, and the concept of sin by reimagining Old Testament narratives. In “Story In Which I’m Renamed Eve And Just Don’t Give A Damn,” Welch writes that “to realize desire / is as much a purpose as anything else.” The Great Flood is also reimagined and its waters flow like blood throughout these poems. Like the body, these waters can become sites of violence and repression. In her persona poem “Noah’s Wife,” the speaker is swept into Noah’s patriarchal world: “There was nothing left of the earth to cling to, everything blue and hidden.” However, these waters can become the site of transformation: “the river will have no mercy except to lift all things toward sea,” settling on the image of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus: “a woman born on / the crest of sea, divine in every detail.” Welch’s collection constantly pushes itself towards a state of empowerment and bliss. It overflows with celebration of sexuality and desire—for “Even the garden / can’t help but burst open, poppies / exploding unapologetically from delicate stems.”

Alice James Books.