Guest Blog

Judy Brown Poem Series: Fire

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Great News: A new blog series by my colleague and friend Judy Brown, who has agreed to be the poet laureate for this site, offering poems from time to time. Judy is a poet, leadership educator, author, speaker, and coach whose work revolves around the themes of leadership, change, dialogue, and creativity. She is particularly interested in the inner dimensions of leadership and the roots of authenticity.

Judy will write about the context in which she wrote each poem and what it means to her, and I will conclude with my reflections about the archetypes expressed in it.



What makes a fire burn

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

too many logs

packed in too tight

can douse the flames

almost as surely

as a pail of water would.


So building fires

requires attention

to the spaces in between,

as much as to the wood.


When we are able to build

open spaces

in the same way

we have learned

to pile on the logs,

then we can come to see how

it is fuel, and absence of the fuel

together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log

lightly from time to time.

A fire


simply because the space is there,

with openings

in which the flame

that knows just how it wants to burn

can find its way.

    --Judy Brown, A Leader’s Guide to Reflective Practice

Judy Brown: The poem “Fire” emerged on my morning journal page at a time when I was overwhelmed by responsibilities of all kinds. I was sitting before a stone fireplace in Maine and staring at the wood fire in front of me. The poem wrote itself. Later someone said to me, “it’s not just a poem. It’s a recipe for making a fire.” That’s true. It is a recipe for a fire. I grew up in a northern Michigan home that was heated by a wood burning furnace and a fireplace. Knowing how to build a fire was essential to comfort. The idea of the importance of space between the logs, the breathing space, is something that I continue to need to relearn. Many people call this poem the “space between the logs.”

Carol Pearson: This is my favorite of Judy’s poems because I need its practical reminder so often, as I tend to overbook. Clearly there is a Sage quality to this poem, as it is about how knowing how to do something properly leads to positive results. However, I see even more Magician in it. It makes me think about ancient shamans and medicine women who gather people around a fire for rituals, stories, or dancing—for healing, imparting wisdom, and building community.

Most indigenous traditions also have medicine wheels with four directions related to four basic elements: earth, water, fire, and air. Building a fire begins with earth as a base and wood, which grows out of the earth, for the fuel. But for fire, air is needed as well, and handy water, in case the fire needs to be put out quickly. The center element is spirit, which is related to peacefulness, which is how we can feel when a fire is well-constructed and we only need to remember, every once in a while, to add another log. That means we can let go of tension and relax, enjoying the fire’s warmth.






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