Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images
Edited by Delys Bird
“A superb and necessary anthology of literature, images and commentary on our relationship to fire in its many manifestations. The works collected here are confronting, challenging, vital and also healing. We witness the destructive effects of fire, but also the visionary and pragmatic role it plays in our lives. These contradictions are often expressed through pain and respect. Editor Delys Bird and Margaret River Press have given us a landmark book that is much needed in these times, and will be much discussed.” John Kinsella
Fire is a beautiful collection of prose, poems, photographs and artworks that celebrates one of life’s basic needs and cruel forces of nature. It was compiled following the 2011 Margaret River bushfire and includes retellings and photographs from that time. In addition, there are many tales and experiences that examine the impact of fire on nature, the environment, and human life. Brooke Dunnell’s story entitled The Pressure Suit summed it up for me.
In nature fire meant regeneration, but this was unnatural and had locked its environment into stasis. (p. 171)
Playwright David Milroy’s commissioned story entitled Walaru and Karla is set in West Australia’s Pilbara region and paints a picture of modern day life interwoven with Aboriginal legend across a number of short tales. It is a glimpse into the world of two brothers, Bailey and Alfred, while they wait for news on the condition of Alfred’s wife Marjorie who has been flown to Perth for medical treatment. Slim Dusty-listening, lizard-chasing Bailey tries to preoccupy his brother with food and yarns, but it is only the recounting of seeing Karla, the fire that ‘had burned for more than twenty years’ and the eagle Walardu (signifying life and death) that brings any comfort to Alfred.
Cassandra Atherton’s Raining Blood and Money: Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire brought me to tears. It is the story of a tragic fire which took place in Milwaukie, USA in 1911 in which 146 people died in less than 20 minutes. Most jumped to their death onto the unforgiving pavement below to escape the fire licking at their backs. The retelling of this story and the images Atherton’s words conveyed, are horrifying. Choose a way to die; be engulfed by fire or risk jumping from the ninth floor of a building.
I learned a new sound – a more horrible sound than description can picture. It was the thud of a speeding, living body on a stone sidewalk. Thud-dead, thud-dead, thud-dead, thud-dead. Milwaukee Journal 27th March, 1911
Kate Rizzetti’s Cool Change makes the reader question would you stay and fight a bushfire to save your home, risking death, or would you leave it all behind if your life was on the line. Pat and Keith are just about to celebrate 50 years of marriage but disagree about what to do as the threat of a bushfire looms large. This short story is complicated by the fact that authorities have told them to leave, Keith is stubborn beyond words and Pat is unable to physically drive herself away from the bush which after 40 years, still feels strange to her.
There are 27 gems in this anthology,selected from hundreds of submissions. It is an indication of the significance of fire in the life of Australians; the part that it plays in our community and the respect that we need to afford it as it takes away, and then gives back (in some instances). This is a moving read; sometimes sad, sometimes funny, and a collection that promises to stay with you long after the pages have turned.
Bird, Delys, Ed. Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images, Margaret River Press, Witchcliffe, WA, 2013. ISBN:
My rating: ★★★★