There are two angels in this book. One is Walter Benjamin's Angel of History, blown by the storm of progress into a catastrophic future. The other is an unemployed and illiterate Puerto Rican man. Both angels are blown backwards into a future they cannot face. Angel in Flames brings together, for the first time, the best of James Scully's poetry from the 1960s – when it was claimed that Vietnamese villages had to be destroyed to be saved – to the 21st century über–state terror wars fought not on battlefields but against civilian populations. Scully's poetry addresses head–on the intellectual and cultural degradation of an imperial order whose ambition appears to be to reduce the globe to a shrunken head on a stick.
the head held so high it tilts back a balancing act, running eyes watery watering like the girl in Vietnam last century, only yesterday still with us in a famous photo out of her element still throwing her head back the same way running naked, trailing napalm vapours too wispy to be visible this one is not naked though, this is no girl the other was slender this is round, soft, fifty–ish this has a homely oval face wrapped head to toe in black fabric this is 2003 this is this century running from nothing anyone can see from no napalm by Macy's on O'Farrell Street with no neck running, no shoulders, fists tucked up under the chin head into body streaming its unbroken shroud like a fish out of water limbs fanning, gasping the eyes of the fish wide with feeling, preposterous feeling as though a bomb has dropped on O'Farrell Street
Sadr City, 28 August 2004 took him inside the house detained his family on the patio cut off the plastic cuffs shot him in the head, twice, dragged him out his wife hysterical, wailing throwing dirt in the air beat on herself with both hands they watched, shocked she placed her baby on the bleeding body this had not occurred to the video wars racketing the screens of their video games the yellow ribbons neatly looped and swallow–tailed on trees and cars, boding their soldiers coming home had envisioned nothing as mad as a baby's blind warmth on a man's corpse
'His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread.' (Walter Benjamin) blown backwards into the future he beholds only the past dragging after him what a catastrophe the furious wind hurls at his feet helpless before it his wings are spread– fanned flat with the sharp snap of terrified sails how will he fold them feather on feather before the torrent of shock waves from paradise? him on his wretched wings helpless to help anyone or anything what he shouts is spittle torn from his mouth himself, ever only a single breath ahead of where he has been where even now the surge of broken bodies is breaking over him filling his eyes, his mouth, his ears with creaturely whispers crushing with love the wings that have caught him up in so much misery
'James Scully's essays, like his poems, refuse to soothe or simplify, to shortchange either poetry or the imperative for social transformation. They are continuously interesting because they take on poetry – and values – from so many angles, are written from a generous frame of reference and in a human voice.'
'Thank Things that somebody is paying attention to what a hell our world is becoming – and, above all, that we're letting the bastards get away with it. It's great to find somebody who's awake and alive. And also find a book of poems that I really want to read.'
W. D. Snodgrass
'beautiful, expert poetry.'
Mistress Quickly's Bed
'a book that recapitulates and re-enacts one entire life that may have tried to be universal but which will be remembered as unique.'
American Review of Books