'Lovecraft Country': The Story Behind the 'Catch The Fire' Song

Lovecraft Country, though it is ostensibly a sci-fi/horror/fantasy show, has never been afraid to incorporate highbrow cultural elements into its melting pot of ideas. As far back as Episode 2, the show has used poetry, with that installment featuring on its soundtrack a Gil Scott Heron poem that gave the episode its name, "Whitey's on the Moon."

In Episode 9, "Rewind 1921," the HBO show ended with what its soundtrack composer Laura Karpman called, "a requiem," based on the poem "Catch the Fire," by poet and Black Arts Movement member Sonia Sanchez.

In an L.A. Times piece, Karpman says of the final song, which was titled "Tulsa, 1921: Don't Catch the Fire," "I think we need a requiem at the end. I want to write a piece of opera."

In the lead up to the song playing in Lovecraft Country, the episode was exploring the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, in which white mobs attacked and destroyed nearly three dozen blocks of what was at the time the wealthiest Black community in the U.S.

Fire had been a recurring theme throughout the episode, as houses and businesses were burned to the ground. While the episode showed fire used against the Black community, Sanchez uses fire as a metaphor to describe the passion and soul that she sees in the Black community even at its most oppressed. As one stanza of the poem puts it:

catch the fire lovecraft country
'Lovecraft Country' ends with a song inspired by the Sonia Sanchez poem "Catch the Fire". Getty

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.

In a later stanza, she described how this "fire" exists because of all the leaders who fought for civil rights: "Where is your fire," she writes, "the torch of life/full of Nzingha and Nat Turner and Garvey/and DuBois and Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin/and Malcolm and Mandela."

Speaking of her poetry in 2016 in a Style Weekly interview, Sanchez said: "I want to make people see that we are just like everyone else and show what it is to have experiences as an African American. To know, as Martin Luther King said, that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We had to bend it sometimes through discipline, activism, love and joy."

In Lovecraft Country, this poem inspires the final song, which was written not only as a requiem for Tulsa but also as a reaction to the protests after the police killing of George Floyd. Karpman, working with renowned record producer Raphael Saadiq on the score of the HBO show, recruited the African-American soprano Janai Brugger to sing. Sanchez herself would sometimes sing parts of the poem at readings, so this suited the history of "Catch the Fire."

Speaking to the L.A. Times, Brugger said of performing the song, "all of that just sat so heavily with me .... It does set this fire within you, to interpret the music the way that she's wanting to use it for the episode; just pain, and using everything within you to just get through this pain, and a call to action to stand up and fight for what's right."

Lovecraft Country concludes on Sunday, October 18 at 9 p.m. on HBO.