EDITORS' SPOTLIGHT - Catherine Shim's "The Geography of Fire"
Catherine Shim is a rising high school senior currently living in the Philippines. Her writing has also appeared in K'in Literary Journal and was featured in the 2020 Austin International Poetry Festival Youth Anthology. Her poem "The Geography of Fire" was published by The Weight Journal in June of 2020.
Below are the thoughts of one of our editor's on this poem, and an interview with Catherine Shim.
I have never experienced losing my possessions in a fire, but this poem captured the horribly destructive power of fire. I love the imagery of charred plastic, and the fire's nest. The poem resonates with me metaphorically, especially with all that has been going on in 2020.
The provocative title shows that fire really has no home, it lives in every town, state, and country. It doesn't care about the home it moves into or what it destroys, if it's your pictures, or your favorite chair.
The truth in this poem is what settled with me most after I read it; the despair of loss and grief are the most human moments, we are the most scared, the neediest, and least safe: "wailing cries crawl up from my dry throat / that I struggle to shut."
More than the 'stuff' lost in the fire, there is a "you" that we are waiting to emerge, but the fire has seemingly consumed all but the load bearing studs. As the narrator watches the house burn down to its bones, her/his fingernails have dug into her/his own bones. None of the material possession matters, they are only land-marks we use to find 'you' and that's why I picked this poem: how often, I wonder, are we thinking about finding our people, how do we people we can't be near, that I can't single-handedly save, that I can't provide my own miracle, all I can do is offer a sobbing a prayer laced with hope.
~ Michael Brennan, Editor
An Interview with Catherine Shim
What, if anything, do you want to share with readers about the work being discussed?
I would love my readers to ask themselves these questions: Is karma real? To what extent is “the butterfly effect” applicable to our lives? How can nature affect our lives? What is our relationship with nature? What defines us as who we are? What ties us to the world and those around us?
We exploit and benefit from nature in numerous ways. Simultaneously, however, nature can also destroy our lives. The persona in this poem represents us and the fire is a symbol that encapsulates the different atrocities resulting from our interactions with nature. I hope my readers would read this poem and then ponder what defines us and connects us to the world -- and ultimately how it can be destructed from our small, everyday actions.
What inspires your writing the most?
I like to walk to different places, and along the journey, I get to notice different people and events going on. These images overlap with my memories of encountering diverse people and small episodes with them. Over the past few years, I noticed many incidents regarding the interaction between humans and nature. All these experiences and observations culminate in a realization of life and inspire my writing.
What does your writing and revision process look like?
I like to picture myself in the setting of my poem. I become the architect and build all the intricate parts of a building, place the small decorations and objects on the shelves. I have to be able to put myself in the poem to describe the mood, tone, and atmosphere. I then bring myself into the shoes of someone who would have lived and experienced the situation. During the revision process, I carefully consider how tense, structure, or even the order of words affect the flow of the poem. I read multiple times and see if the reader can place themselves in the poem, just like how I did in the writing process.
What are your writing goals?
I started writing to relieve the stress from life, but I now write with a different purpose. Through my works, I want to spread awareness of our actions and make my readers think about the impact of their everyday actions.
Living in a fast-paced, materialistic world often makes us forget how special the little bits of life can be. I hope to help people learn how precious each moment of life is and how important it is to be wary of our actions and moments.
What is one random fact, idea, or statement you want to share with our readers?
We take so many things for granted—we only learn its value after we lose it.
And a totally random fact—cheerios with orange juice is a match made in heaven.