Playing with Fire 

Upon first coming across my name, people at times are apt to think that they have stumbled across some joyless, Old Testament style Hellfire & Damnation-to-the-Sinners pulpit basher. And while it must be admitted that I do launch into the occasional Jeremiad, my sobriqet in fact derives from the passionate, fiery nature of my live performances.

Sometimes perhaps too fiery. Indeed actual Spontaneous Combustion has been known to occur when I’m on stage.

I recall, for example, one memorable occasion when I was performing at the esteemed Nimbin World Performance Poetry Cup. I had just launched into the highlight piece of my set, entitled funnily enough: “Too Many Nights I Have Not Burned!”, when smoke started drifting across the stage. There was a ripple of panic as it became obvious that a stack of boxes next to the stage was on fire.

Being a consumate professional, I didn’t let a little thing like that throw me, and I continued with my passionate rendition of the poem-in-progress, as Festival Organisers scurried around frantically extinguishing the flames. The Poem, FYI, runs as follows, and is generally delivered with gradually accelerating bursts of speed,… 


And we are Trapped!

Yes trapped sometime in a night

where the passing of Time is not measured

by the meticulous ticking of clocks,

but by the hum-mmmm of the refrigerator,

and the drip-

                                                    ping of taps,

and the occasional lonely hollow roar

of distant metal madmen

hurtling forever down fluorescent-orange lit freeways

‘neath concrete arches arced against

a night-time sky, studded

with the glowing underbellies of clouds..


And it’s cold. Oh yeah, it’s cold.


A hungry Cold that gnaws

at the warm core of mortality.

That eats away at the extremities first,

the fingers, the feet,

the fringes of the trees,

the frost has turned the lawn

into a jagged jungle

each frozen blade bites at the bare feet,

and it’s cold..oh yeah it’s cold.

But I keep walking, yeah!

And I keep writing, yeah!

After all

I’ll have many nights in which to sleep

throughout the long Forever.

So for now I’ll light this lonely candle,

and I’ll fire my page with words,

too many nights I have not burned

and now too few remain!


I study the mirror/ I

study the reflection/ I

study the reflection of my face in the mirror

in the cold pale light of the dawn

and I say to myself,



Ah yes, a real barn-burner of a poem.

At first the Festival Organisers weren’t entirely convinced that the fire wasn’t my evil work. Suspicion lurked that, like Nero, I had irresponsibly used Fire as a theatrical backdrop to my Art, but I was Innocent. It was just one of those Coincidences. Myself, I suspect the pair of twelve year olds I caught smoking behind the stage before my set, but I pointed no fingers.


Perhaps the Nimbin crew had heard about a previous heated controversy over Fire that occurred when I appeared at a different Poetry Festival earlier that year. I was booked for a twenty minute set, and to provide a memorable finale for the occasion, I wrote a special performance piece, entitled,


The poem, as indicated by the title, was designed to be a one-off. It would be read only once in performance and then destroyed. I would hold it high and set it on fire while the crowd watched in awe. No copy of it would be kept. It would be a unique & entirely ephemeral piece of Art, its half-life limited to that single event in space-time.

It was in effect, a gift to the audience and the Festival itself. I was giving them the present of a poem that they and no-one else in the world would ever get to hear. Personally I thought it was a lovely gesture.

But the Organisers freaked.

No, they said, you cannot perform this poem. Fire & Safety Regulations forbid it. We’ll lose our Public Liability Insurance. The Festival will be kicked out of the building. All manner of Darkness will descend across the Land, you must not proceed.


We’d already had trouble over my smoke machine. I like to make an entrance and there’s nothing like a few billowing clouds to give your appearance an air of Mystery. But “No” they’d said, “Fire & Safety Regulations blah blah blah.” Fortunately, after much argument, I finally persuaded them that it was in fact a FOG, not a SMOKE machine, yes indeedy, producing not smoke but a harmless, nay beneficial mist, good for the bronchial tubes doncha know.

They seemed doubtful but they let it go.

But they drew the line at me setting a piece of A4 paper on fire. It was far too dangerous.

The Artist in me was aghast. Saeva Indignatio lacerated my heart. They had to be kidding. It was no more dangerous than lighting a candle. Should I make a stand on Principle and refuse to do the show? But I had Professional reasons for wanting to appear at the Festival, not the least being that I was being well paid.

So I promised I wouldn’t do it but I could tell they didn’t believe me. Indeed I wasn’t sure what I’d do myself. On one hand I’d given my solemn word. On the other hand this kill-joy bureaucratic interference really got my goat. How dare they interfere with my ART! Didn’t they TRUST me?

Then I had a cunning plan..

Dawns the day. I notice, as I commence my set, that fidgety Festival Officials are posted in strategic locations, ready to intervene should I disavow our agreement and attempt to hold aloft the Torch of Artistic Liberty.

I run through my set. It is time. Advancing purposefully to the microphone, I unfurl a scroll and start to speak,

“Brothers and Sisters, my final poem today is..” I pause dramatically, then let go of the lower end of the scroll so it quickly rolls up and snaps shut,

Banned!” I bellow.

People laugh uncertainly. giggles.

“Thats right. Banned! Censored! FORbidden!!”

“The Organisers of this Festival have forbidden me to perform this poem! They don’t want you to hear it!”

People started to hiss and boo. I held up a hand and shook my head.

“No friends”, I said in mock sorrow, “forgive them, for they know not what they do”

More jeers and hisses.

“They made me promise not to read this poem. Should I keep my promise?”

Cries of, “No!”, “Read It!”

Down the back of the room the chief Festival official was holding his face in his hands. I could sense my rabble-rousing was having a bad effect on him.

“Well friends. I am going to read this poem! (cheers) But not here!

NO! Not here! Not in this accursed place! I’m a man of my word! So I want you all to get up now and follow me. Follow me out onto the street! And there brothers and sisters beneath the free and open skies, I will read you the Forbidden Poem!”

With a cheer we surged past the stunned festival officials and out the door. I lead my flock like the Pied Piper thru the labyrinthine bowels of the building and out onto the street, picking up curious passers-by on the way.

Outside I leapt up upon a convenient ledge and my followers formed a semi circle around me. Fired with enthusiasim I launched into my poem. And what a fine poem it was, though I say so myself. I must admit it was a bit of a battle with traffic noise,

but I bravely bellowed and brayed my way to the end. Then came the moment of Truth! To the cheers of my supporters I ignited the sacred scroll bearing the only copy in the world of my poem. Waving the flaming poem aloft, I led the crowd in an enthusiastic chant of,

Burn Baby Burn!”

“Burn Baby Burn!”


Yes, we chanted and pumped our fists in the air like real revolutionaries. It was such fun. Then, as the last flames blackened the final corner of the scroll, I flung the ashes into the air with the cry,

YOU.. ARE.. FREE!!!”

Cheers. Laughter. The crowd broke up and drifted off. My cunning plan had worked, I had kept my word and I had performed my poem. Everyones a winner, I thought. And while I didn’t keep a copy of the poem I had seen someone film the burning process, so perhaps it would end up on U-Tube one day. Plus, I had given the Festival a memorable and noteworthy performance, sure to raise their Cultural credibility, you’d think they’d be grateful.

Strangely though, it seems my Performance failed to fire their enthusiasim, for I have never been asked to perform at that particular Poetry Festival again.


For more adventures with fire read the Reverends heart-warming sermon

Lets Burn Some Books




The ReverendHellfire is a practising Performace Poet and an ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanists AND the Church of the Universe.

He is currently considering starting a class action case to have the Pantheon returned to its original owners, the Pagans.



~ by reverendhellfire on April 1, 2012.

4 Responses to “PLAYING WITH FIRE”

  1. I liked it! A great gesture. You were the winner.

  2. Thumbs Up! 🙂

  3. fantastic poem for sure.

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