A Review of The Saint of Milk and Flames by Kate Garrett

Review by James H Duncan

I was one of the fortunate few who ordered an annotated copy of Kate Garret’s book, The Saint of Milk and Flames, and reading through these guided poems felt a bit like having a long talk with an old friend about the many ways in which we walk through two worlds at once—the one we see and the one that only reveals itself in the trickiest and subtlest of ways.

The poems are clean and crisp yet dreamlike, balancing accessible narratives against the candle-flame dance of wordplay and imagery. That balance plays out in different ways as the book progresses, and even without the insights offered through Kate notes in my version, I enjoyed seeing all the ways in which that dreamlike world reached into our daily activities through ritual, lore, incantation, and a belief in something greater than ourselves, however you might interpret that. They are poems that speak to the practical challenges of the real world—medical, occupational, familial— entwined with hints of the esoteric and mystical, against zodiac forewarnings and intuitive dreams.

One line that jumped out to me in the poem “Solitaire” was “Everyone’s clarity comes in a different package.” That phrase summed up one of the strongest ideas in this book: the concept that whether you believe in witchcraft and magic, or you lean toward religion and faith, or perhaps none of that at all, our understanding of the world, our clarity, is unique to each of us, our assurances in ritual, our attempts to understand signs, our well-intentioned steps along the footpath. We each seek a way that clear, if only for a little bit ahead of us, and the poems in this book here show a way one might interpret the signals and symbols hidden all around.      

Overall the poems take faith in the goodness of ourselves, in our families, in humanity, in our efforts to push through harrowing challenges in this world, all while intuiting the ethereal effects of the many kinds of magic working behind the curtains, occasionally giving us glimpses of something mystical, and offering plenty to write about. Kate’s insightful work is always a pleasure and a joy.

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