Student Portal: “Catch the Fire” by Sonia Sanchez

“Catch the Fire”
by Sonia Sanchez
Sonia Sanchez (b. 1934) is known for her theatrical and musical performances. She is a poet, activist, playwright, editor, and teacher. Sanchez has published over a dozen books of poetry and numerous plays, short-stories, children’s books, and discographies. Sanchez has won countless awards including the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. During the Thursday Keynote Speeches at the 1994 Furious Flower Conference, Sanchez read “Catch the Fire,” a poem devoted to social change. As you watch the video and read the poem, pay attention to how Sanchez uses musical elements in her performance.

Sonia Sanchez reads “Catch the Fire”

Catch the Fire

(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.

Reader Response Questions

1. What are you passionate about? What is your fire?

2. How does your family or community add or detract from your passion? Is there anything you’d like to change? Explain.

3. What social justice issue/s do you care deeply about?

4. Is there a role model, leader, or family member that has informed you about your social justice issue? Explain.

5. How does your history help make you who you are?

History and Culture

1. Sanchez’s poem incorporates lots of political reform, listing influential political figures such as Nat Turner, W. E. B. DuBois, Malcolm X, and Nelson Mandela. How does her act of naming these figures influence the fire?

2. “Catch the Fire” alludes to movements throughout history, like Nat Turner, slavery (“slaveships”), and “sit ins and marches.” How do you think this heightens the theme of the poem? Can you think of any figures you would add onto this list?

Poet’s Craft and Structure


1. Sanchez sings parts of this poem in the 1994 video, and if you look at the written poem, there are certain parts that are capitalized (“CATCH YOUR FIRE…DON’T KILL / HOLD YOUR FIRE…DON’T KILL). Do you think that this visual performance helps to change the way we read it and vice versa? Why do you think Sanchez chose to capitalize these words?

2. Notice how the poem is centered on the page, creating instances where there is only one word in a line. As you read the poem, pay attention to the lengths of the lines. Do they change the way you read the poem? Are your eyes more drawn to one line because of its length as opposed to another? How does this influence your reading of the poem? Explain.


1. Rhetoric is language that is meant to be persuasive or have an impressive effect on a reader. Sanchez uses questions like “Where is your fire? I say where is your fire? / Can’t you smell it coming out of our past?” What do you think she’s trying to do by questioning her readers? How do these questions relate to the rest of the poem?

2. What do you think is the importance of Sanchez using pronouns like “you,” “us,” and “our?” Does she effectively bring you into her fire? Explain.

Reading and Writing Connections

1. Think about something that you’re passionate about. In at least ten lines, write about your fire using some of the techniques Sanchez uses in her poem (rhetoric, structure, imagery [the way she creates a picture], and allusion [references to various people and events]).


2. Writing in the form of a speech, an advertisement, or a poem, convince someone to join your fire.