When I Was a Fire 

by Ronnie Ferguson

(2024, Harvard Square Press)

When I Was a Fire is a striking, heartfelt debut collection of poems. Primarily set in the Rust Belt, these narrative poems encounter the shame and pain of childhood to glimpse the glory of redemption and hope. These are pieces that see their way through their own tense, first-grade arms folded across a school desk. See through a crack in the door to spy a monkey face on the other side. See through the smoke of a fire started to test exactly how the repercussions would roll. When I Was a Fire is sure to be a source of illumination to those who have wandered the lonely, dry neighborhood backyards all summer, struck a match, and arrived on the other side.



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Ronnie Ferguson's poetry is the real deal — authentic, accessible, funny, moving, and distinctly working class. Steeped in storytelling, brimming with heart, When I Was a Fire is fueled by the poignant moments of a Rust-Belt childhood where the bruises burn, dead friends and fathers haunt the landscape, and victory can be found in the strange defeats. The part I like best about this skillfully written debut collection is the way Ferguson often concludes his pieces with beautiful and unexpected lines that astonish — the magic of great poetry.


Reagan M. Sova, author of Wildcat Dreams in the Death Light and Tiger Island



Reading Ronnie Ferguson’s When I Was a Fire is like tearing a Band-Aid off childhood. Underneath, you find a wound that, although decades old, still pulses pink and raw. From an elementary classroom where a teacher dispenses embarrassment in a green bucket, to a youth wrestling tournament where “i was fighting / for any piece of another life,” these poems capture the ineffability of growing up in a world where neighbors sit in lawn chairs, sipping cheap wine “the color of blood,” watching a family’s home burn down. Ferguson’s language is spare, full of gritty humor, and each page debrides the pains, joys, and struggles of a working-class youth. Be warned: When I Was a Fire will break you into pieces and then stitch you back together.


Marty Achatz, two-time Poet Laureate of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula


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