Hello Poetry Lovers,
It is a well-known fact that poets take on any matter--anything from the monumental to the smallest of things. Everything that is part of life can be, and will be, interpreted by a poet sooner or later. One of the points of writing poetry is to share the experience of life, to bring some part of one's self to the entirety of human existence.
Great events require poems. Think of celebrations, think of tragedies. The world turns to poets to mark them both. There is a name for the poems that are directed to weddings: epithalamion; to mourning a death: elegy. A poem that tell of great adventure is called epic, one directed to subject of love, a sonnet. In fact there are dozens and dozens of poetic forms, as well as poetry that requires no form at all, and is called free verse. In free verse there is no restriction as far as subject matter, or the many other requirements of classic poetry such as meter or rhyme.
This very brief description of the unrestricted range of poetry is good to know in regard to the subject of the Holocaust. Today, in 2011, there is a great deal of information about the events of World War 11, and a great deal has been learned about the Holocaust, although even today new material still surfaces. The end of Soviet domination in Russia, for example, led to the discovery of documents relating to the Holocaust that had not been seen before because during the Cold War the Soviets had not shared them with the West.
By now survivors, scholars, historians, playrights, filmakers, novelists, sculptors and painters have shared their memories, accounts, and interpretations of the horror visited upon the Jews of Europe. And yes, poets too, have expressed themselves. But for poets, opening up the subject took a very long time.
The Holocaust was unique in the annals of human experience; words were very difficult, if not impossible, to come by; in the years following the end of the war, some people asked what it could mean to write a 'poem' any more. In 1949, Theodor Adorno, a leading German critic, aghast at what had happened, coined an expression that struck a chord with many: "Nacht Auschwitz ein Gidicht zu schreiben, ist barbarish," which means "After Auschwitz it is barbaric to write poetry." Of course there were others, compelled to bear witness, who slowly began to write. That small number of souls who found voice then has now grown to great numbers, but it has taken more than fifty years.
Those of you who have followed this blog may know that the Holocaust has been a subject in my work. In my case, it took a lot of years of reflection and study before I began to write. I too, was affected by a sort of paralysis in trying to deal with the absolute evil of the Shoah. Being a lucky American Jew, I found the issue of "permission" a stopper. Here are some lines from a poem called "This Story," which I will be reading on June 10 on the SouthSide.
Year after year I could not address those losses.
I was a far-off daughter, safe, saved, new-born, lucky.
So lucky in sweet America that I had no right. No right to speak.
I wondered: What is the worst part?
...I have no right, but I ask:
was the shame, the moaning, naked red shame, worse than the pain?
Please join me and Michael Wurster at 7:30 on June 10, 2011, at 1926 Sarah Street. I plan to read a great deal more work about the Shoah, from the perspective of an American Jew. And thanks for clicking in.