Monday, July 22, 2013
Resurrecting Holocaust Poetry
As I mentioned in my goals for the second half of 2013 one of the things that I am in the process of doing is getting back to the, sometimes daunting, task of submitting poetry to magazines for publication. It has been approximately eight years since I last published a chap book of original work and subsequent pieces have been languishing in my computer since that time. Individual poems, sequences, chap books, and collections are just sitting there waiting for me to do something with them. This is a task that I frequently revisit as many of you may remember the last time I wrote about this on my previous blog, From Goy to Oleh, in April 2011.
While I do have poems spanning a wide range of topics and experiences, most of the more well received poems that I have written are my own recreations of the lives of three victims of the Holocaust: Hertha Feiner, Janusz Korczak, and Filip Müller. The poems are fictionalized historical accounts of what might have happened in the world immediately surrounding these people.
The general thought behind them is that every memoir has something missing. Sometimes it’s a forgotten foreshadowing phrase said in passing or simply what is happening outside when their focus is on the room in which they are sitting. These are the aspects painted in this collection. It is my hope that these poems are not only stirring but accurate as well and I have, so far, been fortunate enough to verify that very fact with those who were there.
Many people have asked me why I started writing Holocaust poetry. I really don’t have an answer to that question but I can tell you how it happened…
During the winter of 2004, I began writing about the Holocaust because I needed an outlet for my own pain and fear. It was not a conscious decision to write about Janusz Korczak, it just happened. I began relating to Korczak and his children on the most basic level: I was discontent, I couldn’t eat, and I was in pain. It was a time in my life when writing was work.
I was struck not only with what Korczak recorded in his diary but also by the thoughts of what was not written in those pages. This feeling was intensified further when I would come across passages that were of longing, passages that recalled of a different time in Korczak’s life, a time without worry. I understood the feeling of wanting to escape but my thoughts were firmly planted in the Warsaw orphanage in which Korczak was writing amongst sleeping children.
It was the contrariness between thought and reality that forced me to scribe ink on the page. When Korczak wrote, “I used to write at stops, in a meadow under a pine tree, sitting on a stump. Everything seemed important and if I did not note it down I would forget. An irretrievable loss to humanity,” I couldn’t stop thinking about what the children were experiencing at that time, at that exact moment. Were they awake or asleep, were they hungry, were they scared, were they healthy or sick? What was happening outside the window, what sounds did they hear, what smells slipped through the cracks?
That is how these poems started and resulted in some of them being published in Midstream Magazine, The Endicott Review, The Hypertexts, Charles Fishman’s anthology Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust, and my own chapbook (the Janusz Korczak section), Kaddish Diary (Pudding House Publications, 2005). The need to know more can be a powerful motivation.
I continued writing Holocaust poetry for the next few years after that completing three small series. However, the resulting nightmares and emotional exhaustion increasingly gotten worse resulting in my taking a break from writing about the subject.
Maybe it is finally time to resurrect these Holocaust poems and start working on reinforcing memory. Maybe I will finally be able to do so. Maybe enough time has passed.
If need be, I will spread them out and in between those sketches from my own life that I have filed away. I might even use some of the images from this blog to provoke the concise language I have since lost. Hopefully, results will come with this renewed focus and I can finally fulfill the goal I set many years ago… to publish a complete collection.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start by pulling them from cyber storage, re-familiarizing myself with my former voice, and getting them into circulation. We will see what happens.