Land of Fire

Land of Fire Cover Final GAYA

“Debut of irresistible tension”
–Publishers Weekly

“A book of comfort, a book to love”
–Jericho Brown

“A deliberate, deftly rendered,
multivalent collection”

“Poems of muscular strength and
deeply moving witness”
–Naomi Shihab Nye

“One of the most promising writers
of migration today”

“Lines that sing”
–Robert Pinsky




The poems in Mario Chard’s first collection follow three entangled strands—a contemporary immigrant story, echoes of the Fall in Paradise Lost, and meditations on fatherhood in the shadow of Abraham’s command to sacrifice a son. The poet speaks from the American hemisphere, immersed in histories of loss from long before Magellan first glimpsed his tierra del fuego. This Land of Fire is close at hand though we try and insist upon its distance, like the sun, like Milton’s Pandemonium, like the wars outside our borders or within.

Advance Praise

Land of Fire, with a kind of understated, shadow title — Tierra del Fuego — embraces the reality of collisions and meldings: Spanish and English, violence and peace, legend and fact, pain and creation, family comfort and the echoes of Abraham and Isaac. Mario Chard conveys that shifting reality in lines that sing, innovating choral patterns and refrains that honor the past by re-conceiving it.”

“An arresting start: “We make a thing we marvel / and learn to worry,” the poet says. And then such lovely ruthless danger, dream, repetition, heart-stopping realization in this book. Mario Chard brilliantly taps Paradise Lost for its “night and chaos” to translate doomed migrants at the border, “the disappeared” in Argentina, the young watercolorist blinded by buckshot.  But also love and resilience, a sense of the sacred, of mistake and misgiving, a hike through canyons with brothers, a child’s picture book repaired so the little cardboard lever works again and the horse’s legs fly.”

“Power of language — stirred and replenished. Mario Chard writes spare, dynamic poems of muscular strength and deeply moving witness. ‘We think worry is a robe / we can outgrow.’ In this potent world of mixed landscapes and generations, his voice explores what we can and cannot know with elegant grace.”

“So far, the poems of Mario Chard’s Land of Fire make the best use of third person in any 21st century lyric, and their return to the first person plural reminds us that we all look at nature hoping, often praying, for a sign: ‘The way we knew a false / pine from the true was how it moved in wind.’ Chard wields restraint with a talent that is made all the more fierce by what it masks. Each poem progresses in a mode of fairy tale or fable toward a sense of wisdom one could only gain through the deepest experience of regret.  Somehow that regret makes this a book of comfort, a book to love.”


“Chard displays deep interest in sonics and wordplay while dissecting language in this debut of irresistible tension … Chard urges his readers to slow down and savor the process of untangling the occasionally slippery syntax of his narratives … Throughout this fine collection, Chard takes moments of vulnerability and finds within them opportunities for connection.”
— PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (full review)

“Chard unearths his cultural and linguistic heritage, laces it with Christian mythos and reflections on fatherhood, and ignites the mixture into smoldering flames … Chard’s poems burst with allusions to biblical scripture, with migrants and prophets playing equal roles, embedded in searing landscapes … Chard’s verses reverberate with such soft notes and quick turns, like the pause before a stunning full stop … A deliberate, deftly rendered, multivalent collection.”
— BOOKLIST (full review)

“Chard’s tireless pursuit of the horse, and his mapping of all the lands and languages the horse leads us to, is the true and driving brilliance of his first collection of poetry, Land of Fire, published by Tupelo Press this March. This shrewd approach manages to capture the bleak contours of the American immigration landscape today, all the while blurring its edges. Chard is one of the most promising writers of migration today. His work is not simply an indictment of walls, but a careful tracing of their erection and the process by which we become encircled, and how we might yet find a way out.”
— LONGREADS (full review)

“Across stanzas, across poems, across the book as a whole, Chard revolves around and renews a deliberately restricted palette of sound and image, which, like the coin of a realm we’ll never visit, is meant to return us to the capriciousness and injustice (but also the world-making wonder) of our own. Land of Fire isn’t a book-length poem—its finely turned lyrics are too portable, too made-to-travel on the ritual tongue—but the coordinated effect finds each piece complexly interwoven with its others, catching and mirroring back their light. It’s a book to be read in full. It’s a light we probably need.
— THE KENYON REVIEW (full review)

“Chard’s writing has a ‘muscularity’ about it which means that the material is held and worked with both delicacy and confidence. The ‘muscularity’ shows itself in a spare, understated style which involves short sentences and a very sparing way with adjectives. But ‘muscularity’ should not be interpreted as ‘machismo’. There are a number of poems about men and, for example, father/son relationships, which are, again, both delicate and deeply emotionally intelligent. These personal poems also fit with the emotional tenor of the collection, which is unusual in its consistency; a measured, calm exploration of how we might be and become empathetic.”

“The spare, restrained poems in Mario Chard’s debut book, Land of Fire, are less concerned with whether we see what’s in front of us, and more concerned with whether we can see what’s no longer there. The book is permeated with a sense of loss that reaches all the way back to the beginning: the Fall. Many of the poems are in dialogue with Paradise Lost, which imbues their subjects—fables, prophets, fathers and sons, Mexican American immigrants, and Argentina’s disappeared—with mythic import, reminding us we are ever in a postlapsarian world.”

“Chard unearths those cautious moments, whether he is writing of this world, or of other worlds—Miltonic shadows, mythic planes.”
— THE MILLIONS, Must-Read Poetry: March 2018 (full review)

“Mario Chard’s outstanding debut, Land of Fire, examines the ideas of citizen and alien, of national borders and of other, stranger ways we encounter and escape the confines that keep us. The book revolves around the series “Caballero”, a mythologization of the fate of a group of undocumented immigrants whose van crashed—according to differing news reports, either from swerving to miss a horse, or due to the driver molesting a passenger. This poem hinges on the command say, as in “Say it was a horse. / That the horse watched / the three ton van / roll…” That the command exists with one foot in imagine and one foot in declare gets at the book’s heart: an uneasy and reverent reckoning with what breaking silence brings into being. In short, Land of Fire is a careful, faceted meditation on what is sayable, what is unspeakable, and what barriers can be crossed with acts of witness and acts of imagination. It is a book that every day becomes more necessary.”
— 2019 GAYA Judge Statement (link)