FIRE IN THE HEAVENS

I remember the impact this poem had on me as a kid. And it wasn’t just the visual tone of the work, but the metaphorical and dangerous aspect.

Christopher Brennan has a unique place in Australian literature. His work predated the influence in Australia of the various “isms” that became so much a part of European poetry. To this extent he was outside the accepted poetic visions so prominent in Australia towards the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. However, none of this had any effect on me. When I was fourteen I just found his poem “Fire in the Heavens” magical. And as huge slabs of Australia is burning and the smoke is choking Canberra with the most toxic air in the world at the moment, I have paused to consider this outstanding work.

Like the storm in Shakespeare’s “King Lear” the fire in Brennan’s unusual sonnet suggested to me the antagonistic quest for the meaning of my existence. It represented the inner anguish of youth along with the outer world of harshness that existed in the very stones and valleys of my country. It suggested burning of the past and acceptance of pain provided provided through “some dazzling puncture”. It suggested the paradox of discord and harmony. The poem finishes with “the cicada’s torture-point of song.”

So why was the work so often shunned? Let the academics address this. Brennan was recognised with awards in his honour. But the beautiful thing about his work is that it was never fully accepted. Yes! It influenced without full acceptance. And for me, this one poem provided a core suggestion of how the universe operated in a way no philosophy could … except perhaps for Keats’ notion of “negative capability” …

“Fire in the Heavens” suggested the paradox of hellish scenarios in heaven. It pitted the necessity of hell with the ideal of heaven. The poem never allowed the observer or reader to escape into fanciful bullshit of positive universes or anything else. It told it as it is …

As significant populations are evacuated from their homes and their places of contemplative relaxation in so much of Australia, we might be reminded that there is no escape from the reality of a consistent and ever present hell. All else is illusion. And while illusion is sometimes nice and even necessary, there will always be “fire” in “
heaven …

Published by shadowhousepits

For more than twenty years, I have worked as a writer, theatre director, actor, dramaturg, producer and teacher. ​My work with Shadow House PITS best demonstrates a particular blending of Artaud’s ideal of a “theatre of cruelty”, Brecht’s “epic theatre” and the absurdist theatre of “Ionesco”. This website offers scripts and writings that illustrate this blending. Each script has had at least one season of public performances; most have had multiple seasons. Prior to Shadow House PITS I spent twenty years as a journeyman working at La Boite Theatre (1970s), being an Artistic Director of a theatre-in-education company (Jigsaw) and running a theatre school, Stagecoach (9 years). At one point I also was co-producer of a commercial theatre and bar (PITS) with David Bates. I regard all this prior time as doing a kind of dues in order to focus myself on what is necessary to write and produce work that has value. One needs to do one’s dues in order to have the temerity to declare one’s offerings for public perusal and judgement. Over recent years, I have produced and directed plays from the Western theatre canon, including: HAMLET, TAMING OF THE SHREW, TWELFTH NIGHT, KING LEAR and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM by William Shakespeare and THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI and MOTHER COURAGE by Bertolt Brecht and THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller. These were all performed by student actors. My own work is more directly influenced by Antonin Artaud, Brecht, Ionesco and Butoh. Have a look at the sample texts and some of the video links. Consider purchasing one for yourself. I hope you enjoy your time here with Shadow House PITS.

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