Thursday, March 31, 2011

Holocaust Poetry

In addition to my other blog posts, to honor both Holocaust Remembrance Month and National (US) Poetry Month I will be posting a poem a day throughout the month of April (and into May to properly honor Yom HaShoah). The poems that I will be posting 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 account 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 you will find these poems not only stirring but accurate as well.

Each poem will be posted with a quote from the book before the text of the poem and a brief biography of the person’s whose life we are remembering below the poem which will also include the citation of the original text referenced in the poems. I encourage you to read their accounts as one should not rely solely on these poems for information.

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 depressed, 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 the posting of these poems will give me that final push to continue writing about the Holocaust. Maybe. Maybe not. I guess we will find out.

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