Ancient Paths has had the privilege of publishing a number of James B. Nicola’s poems, from “Oil Can” in Issue 14 in 2007 to more recent online publications including “Creche” and “To Help You Think.” This year, the poet released his collection “Fires of Heaven: poems of faith and sense.”
This volume of verse contains over one hundred poems, most in the free verse style, with a smattering of formal verse. Many of the poems are critical of the institutional and manipulative aspects of religion while simultaneously acknowledging the appeal and power of faith and the value of the spiritual world.
We are introduced to questionable religious figures, such as in the harrowing poem “Interpretation,” which powerfully recounts a manipulated suicide (if that’s your interpretation….) We see institutional religion through a child’s eyes in “Lamp Stand” and learn of a priest who gets sent off to jail. In “Collection Basket,” we peek into the harms done in the name of (or simply ignored by) religion.
Despite all this human failing, God still winds his way quietly through the world and weaves himself throughout the lines of these poems, as the oil, the oil can, the baker, and the lamp. In “Margin of Error,” one of my favorite poems in the collection, the poet talks about the rivalry between faith and science and their ultimate need for one another.