Understanding the Sonia Sanchez Poem in LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Lovecraft Country consistently introduces pieces of Black history and culture. In “Rewind 1921,” viewers follow Tic, Leti, and Montrose back to Tulsa, Oklahoma on the eve of the Tulsa Race Massacre. The episode not only touches on this real-life event but it also includes “Catch the Fire,” a striking poem by writer and activist Sonia Sanchez. Her words are spoken alongside striking imagery and speak perfectly to themes built across the show’s entire run.

Who is Sonia Sanchez?

Sanchez (birth name Wilsonia Driver) was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1934. She moved to Harlem with her schoolteacher father in 1943 and took an interest in poetry. After graduating from Hunter College in 1955, she began postgraduate work at New York University and formed a writers’ workshop in Greenwich Village, where she met other Black poets like Nikki Giovanni.

In the 1960s, Sanchez developed a Black studies curriculum at what is now San Francisco State University. She, along with Giovanni, became a seminal figure in the Black Arts Movement of the ’60s and ’70s, promoting a message of Black pride and power through poetry books like Homecoming and We a BaddDDD People.

Her work has garnered a litany of accolades, including a PEN writing Award and the Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Humanities. She has writen over a dozen poetry books, several plays centering the Black experience, and children’s books. Sanchez, who currently lives in Philadelphia, is known for reciting her poems aloud with a powerful cadence.

The Significance Behind “Catch the Fire”

“Catch the Fire” was published in Sanchez’s 1995 poetry collection Wounded in the House of a Friend. The poem encourages people to think about the incredible fire that kept past generations alive through slavery, racism, and the many socioeconomic challenges of being Black.

“Catch the Fire” charges Black people to operate with that same ingenuity used by slaves who made scraps into soul food, notes into pioneering music, and fought boldly against Jim Crow laws. Sanchez names several prominent ancestors like Angolan warrior Queen Nzingha, rebellion leader Nat Turner, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Nelson Mandela.

The poem speaks brilliantly about maintaining a balance of activism, harnessing personal power, and fighting back by living a full life with love and laughter. Here is the poem in its entirety.

(Sometimes I wonder:
What to say to you now
in the soft afternoon air as you
hold us all in a single death?)
I say—
Where is your fire?
I say—
Where is your fire?

You got to find it and pass it on.
You got to find it and pass it on
from you to me from me to her from her
to him from the son to the father from the
brother to the sister from the daughter to
the mother from the mother to the child.

Where is your fire?  I say where is your fire?
Can’t you smell it coming out of our past?
The fire of living…not dying
The fire of loving…not killing
The fire of Blackness…not gangster shadows.
Where is our beautiful fire that gave light
to the world?
The fire of pyramids;
The fire that burned through the holes of
slaveships and made us breathe;

The fire that made guts into chitterlings;
The fire that took rhythms and made jazz;

The fire of sit-ins and marches that made
us jump boundaries and barriers;
The fire that took street talk sounds
and made righteous imhotep raps.
Where is your fire, the torch of life
full of Nzingha and Nat Turner and Garvey
and DuBois and Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin
and Malcolm and Mandela.
Sister/Sistah  Brother/Brotha  Come/Come

Catch the fire and burn with eyes
that see our souls:
Hey.  Brother/Brotha.  Sister/Sista.
Here is my hand.
Catch the fire…and live.

Atticus and Montrose Freeman Lovecraft County stand together in living room

Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

Catch the Fire’s Message in Lovecraft Country

“Catch the Fire” plays over several scenes in this episode. Leti stands with Tic’s great-grandmother Hattie; the latter accepts that her family will die during the Tulsa Race Massacre. Hattie tells Leti that she hopes her great-great-grandson (Leti and Tic’s unborn baby) will be the living embodiment of her unwavering faith.

Leti decides to stay with her and comfort her during her last painful and excruciating moments. They begin to pray together as the room becomes engulfed with flames while Sanchez’s words ring clearly above the soft score. Hattie looks Leti in the eyes as those she is silently telling Leti to hold onto her own personal fire in the future. The words “you got to find it and pass it on” are like message for Leti to tap into herself and walk with the confidence of her own ancestors in the midst of trouble.

Lately, Leti’s primary concern has been about Tic’s well-being. But this moment coupled with “Catch the Fire” confirms that her decision to protect herself first by taking the invulnerability spell was the right choice. Otherwise, she would have died during the shootout at her home and never made it to this moment. It’s an affirming message not only for Leti but to others, especially Black women, that choosing ourselves can literally save our lives and help us walk through the many fires.

Tic and Leti stand outside Victorian era home as Tic places his bloody hand on a monster

Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

The poem continues to play as Tic runs in to save young Montrose, Dora, and George from a group of white attackers. Tic represents a descendant in many ways as someone who has found his fire, his purpose, and comes in to save the past for the future’s sake. He is starting to “catch the fire” of unity, actively mending his relationship with his father so they can work together against a greater evil.

It’s the only way he is able to attain success, particularly in this venture to get the book. Without Montrose, Tic and Leti would not have known where to go nor had any indication of some things that were about to happen. Tic is finally realizing that they are all a part of this saga so he cannot (and doesn’t have to) make unilateral decisions anymore.

We go back to the other side of town and see Leti in tears as the camera pans out. It shows Dora’s home being engulfed in flames and Montrose/George’s home next door on fire as well. The poem is finished and viewers see Leti literally walking through explosions and flames with the precious Book of Names cradled in her arms. She has caught her fire and will now continue to live.

Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors stand in front of each other Lovecraft Country catch the fire

Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

The message in “Catch the Fire” extends past the two primary protagonists. Montrose also has to catch his fire to live his truth, love himself despite his many faults, and rediscover who he is so he can move forward in a positive direction. He cannot change the past (which this episode makes crystal clear) but the future has potential. He can be a better grandfather and help guide his brother’s little namesake towards something bigger (if he is still alive). And it’s not too late to find a place of healing and reconciliation with Tic as well as his lover Sammy.

In the episode, Montrose speaks the name of ancestors who died in the Tulsa massacre. It’s parallel to Leti calling on the names of Black souls in her basement and Sanchez including names of some Black figures who are no longer alive. That thread of not only evoking their energy but also honoring their names is a major part of Lovecraft Country‘s ethos.

Hippolyta has taken Sanchez’s words to heart, truly operating in her own purpose and asserting her inner power. She tells everyone that she can name herself anything she wants and flexes her vast knowledge to make it all happen. Because, let’s be honest, they could not have gotten the Book of Names without Hippolyta. The fire which laid dormant in her as she shrunk herself down is now fully ignited and ready to effect change.

Ruby’s dreams and passions of getting that “good management job” have now taken backseat to her mission to do even more with her life that will elevate other Black people in her community as well. This all ties into one of the show’s themes of self-discovery, empowerment, and how to press forward in power through pain.

Lovecraft Country is certainly pushing its main characters to unify and utilize their power, be it actual magic and/or their incredible brilliance, to come together for success. It’s up to Tic, Leti, Montrose, Hippolyta, and Ruby to hold on to their fire, learn from it, and be the fire and faith of their ancestors.

Featured Image: Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

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