Condition of Fire

‘Now I will tell my stories of bodies that change…’ Ovid, Metamorphoses


Ovid wrote his famous stories of change just before he was banished from his beloved Rome and after travelling and observing many diverse and vibrant landscapes. He may well have visited and was knowledgeable of the Aeolian Isles where volcanoes cast molten lava into turquoise seas, whipped by the winds of the god who made his home there.

It was to these rapturous, Edenic and violently creative islands that JL Williams ventured to write the poems in this collection; poems inspired both directly by Ovid’s tales and informing the new story that emerges from the old — a post-apocalyptic vision of the earth where metamorphoses engender rebirth out of the ashen wasteland that man has made of the world. Ovid expressed the truth that to change is to survive, and this message erupts out of the poems in Condition of Fire, whose language and images strive to communicate in new ways the essential elements of myth, creation and the burning breath of being.

‘the haunting, incantatory poetry of JL Williams’

Chris Powici, Northwords Now

‘It begins in the dark and ends in the dark, moving from creation to a kind of muted apocalypse, passing on the way through many forms of natural and mythical transformation.

Williams writes short graceful lyrics shot through with, at her best, little scags of elemental terseness.

There is a distant echo of the Hughes of Crow, in the slightly absurd figure of the bat who reappears at intervals through the sequence like a kind of tutelary, demonic or totemic spirit.’

Lyndon Davies, Poetry Wales Spring 2012

‘Luscious, sensory, impressionistic, often non-literal, emotive, parallel universe lexigymnastics.’

Kate Tough, Writer

‘raw and delicate’

Paul Deaton, From Glasgow to Saturn

Condition of Fire is published by Shearsman Books and is available for purchase from the following outlets:, The Book Depository, and Barnes and (USA).

Condition of Fire Cover Image from Private, acrylic on mylar, 2006 by Cameron Harvey, with many thanks.

Published by jlwpoetry

Books by JL Williams include Condition of Fire (Shearsman, 2011), Locust and Marlin (Shearsman, 2014), Our Real Red Selves (Vagabond Poets, 2015) and House of the Tragic Poet (If A Leaf Falls Press, 2016). A collection exploring the fine line between abundance and apocalypse, After Economy, was published by Shearsman Books in May 2017. She is interested in expanding dialogues through writing across languages, perspectives and cultures and in multimodal and cross-form work, visual art, dance, opera and theatre. Published widely in journals, her poetry has been translated into numerous languages. She has read at international literature festivals and venues in the UK, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Turkey, Cyprus, Canada, Hungary, Romania, Montenegro and the US. She wrote the libretto for a new opera, Snow, was Writer-in-Residence for the British Art Show 8 in Edinburgh and plays in the poetry and music band Hail of Bright Stones (

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