“Fire, Fire Burning Bright”
Fire, Fire Burning Bright is a series of programs for young people between the ages of 10 and 15. Each program is based on a particular theme: the sea, the sky, time, dreams, death, and love – and explores how these themes have been expressed through poetry by persons from a variety of world cultures and backgrounds. As an integral part of the programs, the voices of students from a year-long workshop given by Richard Lewis at the Louis Armstrong Intermediate School in Queens, New York, are heard reading their own poetry and discussing the themes and poetic material of each program.
Ideal for helping young people think about how and why poems are made, Fire, Fire Burning Bright, creates an historical framework in which the poems we write today are part of a long poetic tradition rooted in giving expression to our most fundamental human concerns and questions.
Fire, Fire Burning Bright was made possible by a grant to The Touchstone Center from the New York Council for the Humanities and the generous support of the TDK Corporation. The programs were produced in asocial with the Queens College Center for the Improvement of Education.
Project Director: Richard Lewis, Written and Narrated by Richard Lewis, Production Director: Charles Potter, Radio Arts Production, Mixed by David Rapkin, 1985
Program 1, The Sea
This program focuses on the sea as a way to approach the origins of poetry. Richard Lewis and the students from Louis Armstrong Intermediate School imagine that when early peoples first saw the sea, they searched for a way of understanding its massive size, and poetry was created to offer that understanding. The class then discusses this understanding in terms of imagination. They imagine a shell as the world of the sea, with all the sea’s sounds and life. Richard introduces how the words of poems can echo the music of the sea, as well as how metaphors can enrich the meaning of words. Mixing work from . . . with the students’ work, the imagined shell transforms into a metaphor for poetry. Both have a small and fragile outside, and an inside with a life that has lived and continues to live. The students close with a conversation about what poetry is, and one student offers a poem that says, “Poetry is yours alone, anything you want, anything you imagine.”
Program 2, The Sky
The second installment opens with an argument between two of the students about what is more affective in imagining the life of the sky: having your eyes closed, so you can visualize the sky, or looking at the sky, so you can expand from its reality. The students don’t resolve their differences, but Richard Lewis explains how there are many different kinds of imagination. Interspersed with poems about the sky written across many times and places, such as poems by Norma Farber, the People of ancient Ireland, William Blake, the Ewe Tribe, Hitomara, Issa, Sophocles, Juan Ramon Jimenez and the students, the idea of looking and imagining grow. The students discuss how imagination can bring what you cannot touch, like the sky, closer to you, and how sight is like a covering that you must break through to reach imagination. They discuss the differences in a night and day sky, and realize that imagination is like a sky-scape, or landscape, as everything–the sky, sight, imagination–are connected by their unending nature.
Program 3, Time
This program begins with a conversation about the relationship between space and time, and the students discover that they believe time and space only exist in relation to each other. This conversation leads to more thoughts about time existing only in our minds. Richard Lewis discusses how the elusive nature of time is in the fabric and structure of poetry, and the many ways that poets have previously attempted to contend with this complicated idea. Richard begins with poems, by such authors as Simonides, Federico Garcia Lorca, Susan Morrison, The Aztec people, William Shakespeare, the Quechua Indians of South America, and the Eskimos of the Arctic, that expand the theme of time, from trying to explain what time is to how short life can be. Poetry’s role, then, is to capture time through explaining the fleetingness of moments, so that others can experience them. The students argue about whether or not we need time, displaying how it can be an inspiration for much thought, and therefore, much poetry. Richard concludes with saying “Each of us is moved to use poetry to make sense of the flow of time around and within us.”
Program 4, Dreams
This conversation on dreams begins with how dreaming affects the students. Each student has different insights as to why dreams are important in poetry, and some students discuss how dreams allow you to have feelings without control, as poetry can do. The students discuss how dreams often do not make sense, and Richard Lewis connects that to how life can similarly lack logic. The students start to realize their own confusion with the edges of reality and how blurred they can be. They share poems about thinking life is a dream, and then they dream life into nature and common objects. These poems are paired with poems from the poets: Vasko Popa, Emily Dickinson, the Aztec people, Langston Hughes, and the Wintu Tribe of California. Richard explains that the power of dreams is in letting our thoughts wander and grow as they do in poetry. Without the capacity to dream, everything is limited, and, in connecting dreams to poetry, poetry can be seen as language without limit.
Program 5, Death
In this program, the students from Louis Armstrong Intermediate School and Richard Lewis tackle the concept of death and why it often inspires poetry. The students begin by expanding the idea of death, wondering if death can be more than just the end of life, life if being truly alone is another form of death. They agree that it is a very overwhelming topic, and therefore many people try to avoid thinking about it. At the same time, poems by the students and poets such as Basho, Bunya No Asayasu, the Eskimos of the Arctic, D.H. Lawrence, and the Yukuts of central California show how poets hunger to express the journey of the dead. They move to a discussion of poetry that is inspired by the death of living things related to us and realize that talking and writing about death allow us to realize its inevitability. The students discover that writing about death is also writing about life, as one of the students says “If you die, you have to think that you’ve lived. You have to live to die.”
Program 6, Love
The theme of this final program is love, and it centers on the excitement of being alive. The program begins with a review of the previous themes, which display the connections. The students first approach the theme by discussing something they love, even if it is something they have also lost. This conversation leads to the discovery that poetry is a kind of prayer to what exists, and that all things of the world can have the attention of our love, and therefore our poetry. Richard Lewis discusses this idea of love as an amazement of the world around us, and how this means we only have to be willing to search for poetry for there to be poetry. The poems shared are written by the Navajo Indians, Can Fang-Sheng, Po-chu-I, Praxilla of Sicyon, Yuan Mei, The Hawaiian Islands, and the students. The end of the program focuses on how and why we must love poetry, and, then, what poetry is. The students answer that question with an original song, reminding everyone how poetry can capture the amazement of the world.