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Worlds Afire by Paul B. Janeczko is a book of fictional poetry outlining the big top fire on July 6, 1944, in Hartford, Connecticut, at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus. Each poem is from the standpoint of someone who was there that fateful day.

Contained in this book, there are a variety of different perspectives. There’s the little girl who wanted to go but couldn’t because her mom had to work with her dad away fighting the war. Onward to the veteran, Harry King, who tried to take his mind off the horrors of war, only to be thrust into a circus, thinking of what the front line looked like to him. Then you read about the dad, Bill Conti, who propelled his child over the chute with buckets of tears only to feel bad for the other kids who wouldn’t make it and kept going, freeing children, until he was dragged under by the crowd. Later, another dad is searching the armory filled with those who lost their lives only to find that his son is not there. Lastly, the poem of Sam Tuttle, the camera operator, who came to film joy, but ended up being the one who documented the last bit of happiness in so many lives.

This was not a book of happy endings. There is no resolution at the end or a way to make sense of the tragedy that struck killing 167 people, many of them children. Instead, the author chose to tell the truth of something grim, but yet a part of history. The hope of this is what resides in the voices of those telling the story. His characters embody life and death, which right now, we all grapple with every day.


I give Worlds Afire a 5/5!