bio

Jan Campert--Dutch

 

    

Jan Campert
(1902-1943)

 

Jan Campert was born 1902 in The Netherlands. During his short life he was a journalist, theater critic and writer. During World War II he lived in Amsterdam were he became involved in aiding Jews while the country was under German occupation. Campert was eventually arrested and taken to the Neuengamme concentration camp, where he died.   The poem, “De achttien dooden” (“The Eighteen Dead”), tells of the execution of fifteen resistance fighters and three communists by the Germans. The poem was written in 1941, and published illegally in 1943. Campert died in 1943. He is the father of the popular Dutch novelist and poet, Remco Campert.

 

The Song of the Eighteen Dead

A cell is but six feet long
and hardly six feet wide,
yet smaller is the patch of ground,
that I now do not yet know,
but where I nameless come to lie,
my comrades all and one,
we eighteen were in number then,
none shall the evening see come.

O loveliness of light and land,
of Holland's so free coast,
once by the enemy overrun
could I no moment more rest.
What can a man of honor and trust
do in a time like this?
He kisses his child, he kisses his wife
and fights the noble fight.

I knew the task that I began,
a task with hardships laden,
the heart that couldn't let it be
but shied not away from danger;
it knows how once in this land
freedom was everywhere cherished,
before the cursed transgressor's hand
had willed it otherwise.

Before the oath can brag and break
existed this wretched place
that the lands of Holland did invade
and for ransom her ground has held;
Before the appeal to honor is made
and such Germanic comfort
our people forced under their control
and looted as a thief.

The Catcher of Rats who lives in Berlin
sounds now his melody,—
as true as I shortly dead shall be
my dearest no longer see
and no longer shall the bread be broke
and share a bed with her—
reject all he offers now and ever
that sly trapper of birds.

For all whom these words think to read
my comrades in great need and those who stand by them through all
in their adversity tall,
just as we have thought and thought
on our own land and people—
a day does shine after every night,
as every cloud must pass.

I see how the first morning light
through the high window falls.
My God, make my dying light—
and so I have failed
just as each of us can fail,
pour me then Your grace,
that I may like a man then go
if I a squadron must face. 

 

Sonnets for Cynara (XIV)

Rebel. My heart, jailed and enslaved,
that on the trellis of the mundane pulls;
do not feel pressured by your temporary fate ,
even if the shackles are hard, and the walls tight.

For in the beginning was predestined for you,
that a few have continued to succeed
in breaking the bar that presses on their shoulders,
so do not let up, but fight and fight and fight.

Break out and blow upon the muted cinders
that lie hidden under the smoking ruins;
move swiftly like a storm over the low garden
called Holland; strike deadly and quick,
so that wickedness shall meet a terrifying end,
o heart, my heart, o rebel the color of blood.

Translated by Cliff Crego

 

 

Paul Celan--Romanian

 

       

Paul Celan
(1920-1970)

 

Born in Romania as Paul Antschel, Celan was the son of German-speaking Jewish parents, both of whom died in Nazi concentration camps. Celan himself was interned for eighteen months, but managed to escape. In 1945, he moved to Bucharest and began writing poetry in earnest. Living for a short time in Vienna, he settled in Paris in 1948, where he studied German philology and literature. Celan continued to pursue his writing career but remained active as an instructor and translator. Regarded as one of the most important poets to emerge following the war, Celan committed suicide in 1970. His best known war poem is “Fugue of Death.”


Death Fugue 

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall

we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night

we drink it and drink it

we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there

A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes

he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden

               hair Margarete

he writes it and walks from the house the stars glitter he

               whistles his dogs up

he whistles his Jews out and orders a grave to be dug in

               the earth

he commands us strike up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

we drink you in the morning at noon we drink you at

               nightfall

drink you and drink you

A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes

he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden

               hair Margarete

Your ashen hair Shulamith we are digging a grave in the

               sky it is

ample to lie there

He shouts stab deeper in earth you there and you others

               you sing and you play

he grabs at the iron in his belt and swings it and blue are

               his eyes

stab deeper your spades you there and you others play on

               for the dancing

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at nightfall

we drink you at noon in the mornings we drink you at

               nightfall

drink you and drink you

a man in the house your golden hair Margarete

your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents

He shouts play sweeter death's music death comes as a

               master from Germany

he shouts stroke darker the strings and as smoke you

               shall climb to the sky

then you'll have a grave in the clouds it is ample to lie

               there

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

we drink you at noon death comes as a master from

               Germany

we drink you at nightfall and morning we drink you and

               drink you

a master from Germany death comes with eyes that are

               blue

with a bullet of lead he will hit in the mark he will hit

               you

a man in the house your golden hair Margarete

he hunts us down with his dogs in the sky he gives us a

               grave

he plays with the serpents and dreams death comes as a

               master from Germany

your golden hair Margarete

 


 
 
 


Halina Birenbaum--Polish/Israeli

         
Halina Birenbaum
(1929-    )

 

Born in Warsaw in 1929, Halina Birenbaum is a writer, poet and translator.  A Holocaust survivor, Birenbaum was assigned to Majdanek, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck and Neustadt-Glewe camps.  She was just fifteen when she was liberated from Neustadt-Glewe concentration camp.  She relocated to Israel in 1947.  In 2001 she received the Polish Person of Unity award, Rada Chrzescijan i Żydów.  Her most important work, Hope is the Last to Die, is regarded as an important contribution to Holocaust literature.  She has a number of books of poetry published in Polish and Hebrew.

 

tears


they say that they are bitter pungent,

they choke, suffocate

they burn eyes, cause wrinkles everyone is afraid and ashamed of them

they are considered a sign of weakness,

effeminacy an expression of adversity, sickness,

mourning people run away from their sight,

hide behind them

for me it is much worse when they are not there

when their source dries out

this means that I am numb

that nothing can move or affect me anymore

that I don't know how to worry don’t know how to be glad

that I have given up the fightthat nothing is left to conquer,

desire or experience anymore

it means that I don't care about anybody

and no one cares about me

therefore I am a stone a living corps

for me tears are necessary

I have to feel their burning fire under my eyelids

feel their wet warm trace on my face that cramp in my throat

that shiver in my bodythat quickened heart beat before

they appear I have to feel their welcome

beneficial warmth

that burning pain of bitterness, indignation or protest

I have to see them in other people's eyes

like a reflection and a response of their emotions

which are in me and grow in others toward me for me tears are very precious

they are a cleansing form of life's evil dust from mediocrity, weariness, contempt

a rebirthrenewaltears are sincerity, the truth, human sufferingsbut also human gladness

tears can show human soul often hurt, wretched and embittered but often radiant, rejoiced never stone hearted

for me tears are necessary to feel alive to show that I have a heart

and that I am truly a human being

 

I remember myself as a small girl from the Warsaw Ghetto
 
I remember myself from those days
as a small girl
who walked the noisy streets
in spite of the cruelty
I remember looking at the people
at the big buildings
at the sky and at the consistent sun
rising my face to them, warming myself
in that remote sun
at night through my window I counted stars
trying to foretell the future:
will there be for me another tomorrow
will I be still alive the next night?
I remember those people
who hurried through crowded streets
their clothes, faces—glances
countless times I pushed my way among them, watching
wishing to grow up faster—to be their equal
they seemed to me then powerful, eternal
in spite of that cursed fear
they were so full of life, constant movement
inconceivably ingenious
later I have seen the same streets abandoned and empty
I was taken through those deaden streets
in the midst of the rubble of burned buildings
those powerful crowds were missing among the living
only that usual sky
far away stars
and the sun




 
 
 

Elizabeth Bishop--American

 

    

Elizabeth Bishop
(1911-1979)

Considered one of the best of the 20th century poets writing in English, Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry continues to grow in popularity and admiration. Independently wealthy, Bishop was able to travel extensively. Her first collection of poetry, North and South, speaks to her concerns for what she witnessed during her travels, especially social injustice. Though her combined collection of poetry is relatively small, short of 100 poems, Bishop received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and two Guggenheim fellowships. She was also the first woman to receive the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and remains the only American awarded the prize. She served as Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1966 until her death in 1979.

 

Visits to St. Elizabeth’s

This is the house of Bedlam.
This is the man that lies in the house of Bedlam.
This is the time
of the tragic man that lies in the house of Bedlam.
This is a wristwatch
telling the time of the talkative man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the honored man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.
This is the roadstead all of board
reached by the sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the old, brave man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.
 
These are the years and the walls of the ward,
the winds and clouds of the sea of board
sailed by the sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the cranky man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.
 
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
over the creaking sea of board
beyond the sailor
winding his watch
that tells the time
of the cruel man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.
This is a world of books gone flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
over the creaking sea of board
of the batty sailor
that winds his watch
that tells the time
of the busy man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.
This is a boy that pats the floor
to see if the world is there, is flat,
for the widowed Jew in the newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
waltzing the length of a weaving board
by the silent sailor
that hears his watch
that ticks the time
of the tedious man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.
These are the years and the walls and the door
that shut on a boy that pats the floor
to feel if the world is there and flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances joyfully down the ward
into the parting seas of board
past the staring sailor
that shakes his watch
that tells the time
of the poet, the man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.
This is the soldier home from the war.
These are the years and the walls and the door
that shut on a boy that pats the floor
to see if the world is round or flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances carefully down the ward,
walking the plank of a coffin board
with the crazy sailor
that shows his watch
that tells the time
of the wretched man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.
This is a world of books gone flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
over the creaking sea of board
of the batty sailor
that winds his watch
that tells the time
of the busy man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.
This is a boy that pats the floor
to see if the world is there, is flat,
for the widowed Jew in the newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
waltzing the length of a weaving board
by the silent sailor
that hears his watch
that ticks the time
of the tedious man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.
These are the years and the walls and the door
that shut on a boy that pats the floor
to feel if the world is there and flat.

This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances joyfully down the ward
into the parting seas of board
past the staring sailor
that shakes his watch
that tells the time
of the poet, the man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.
This is the soldier home from the war.
These are the years and the walls and the door
that shut on a boy that pats the floor
to see if the world is round or flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances carefully down the ward,
walking the plank of a coffin board
with the crazy sailor
that shows his watch
that tells the time
of the wretched man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 

 

Louis Daniel Brodsky--American

 

      

Louis Daniel Brodsky
(1941-    )

Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1941, Brodsky has writing degrees from Yale University, Washington University and San Francisco State University. He has taught creative writing and since 1987 devoted himself to writing poetry. Author of fifty-five books of poetry and twenty-three volumes of prose, Brodsky has also written books on William Faulkner and seven books of short fiction. His poems and essays have appeared in Harper’s, The Faulkner Review, Southern Review, Texas Quarterly and the National Forum among other publications. His work also has been included in five editions of the Anthology of Magazine Verse and Yearbook of American Poetry.


Crimes against Humanity
 
This inordinately early morning,
An argentiferous mist
Lifts between sky and trees,
Enfacing his eyes' tormented horizon.
He has no idea why he's driving south,
Unless it's to elude sleep's neo-Nazis,
Stalking alleys and side streets
Of the ghetto from which he's perpetually retreating —
He had not one extra second
To grab possessions
During their blitzkrieg last night-mare
Or to act upon his Wiesenthal dreams.
Conceivably, he's being too dramatic,
Stating the case with ironic hyperbole.
Probably, this ominous mist, now crimson,
Portends nothing less nor more
Than the severe thunderstorm
His radio's been forecasting repeatedly
These past three hours.
Yet perhaps he's actually fled this time,
Not to elude Nazis
But to hunt down his fugitive hallucination,
Extradite and punish it
For crimes against his humanity.

 

 

Philip Appelman--American

 

       

Philip Appleman

(1926-    ) 

Appleman, distinguished professor emeritus of the Department of English at Indiana University—Bloomington, served in the U.S. Army Air Corps and the U.S. Merchant Marine Corps during the Second World War. Throughout his career he has published seven volumes of poetry, three novels, including Apes and Angels, and half a dozen non-fiction books. His most awarded non-fiction work is the Darwin and the Norton Critical Edition of Malthus’ Essay on Population. Appleman has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Friend of Darwin Award from the National Center for Science Education, and the Humanist Arts Award of the American Humanist Association. His work has appeared in a number of prestigious publications including Harper’s, The Nation, The New Republic, Paris Review, Partisan Review and the Yale Review.

 

The Persistence of Memory

We have been through them now, the silver

anniversaries: VE-Day,

the Bomb, the wreck

of Japan, all

misted in quaintness—and still

they keep coming,

brown women swirling past,

the armies somewhere behind them, burning

the villages: always the same,

the same weary women each year,

muddy skeletons lugging

the brass pots, tugging the delicate children,

camping in culverts, eating grass-

and the rich bombers run

on their shabby targets; kids

in helmets inch

through torn jungles; somewhere at sea,

ships lob shells

at the horizon—it is all a memory

of old men:

the brave planes limping home,

balding heroes sending

their sons to glory, the bleeding

always the same, like father

like son, breastplate

and buckler rusting

in a dream of blood we

move through, open-eyed,

sons of our dreaming

waiting for all the memories to fade.



On a Morning Full of Sun
 
One of our gulls 

is keening in the flat

blue light: something

is gone, is gone, is gone—a hundred

teen-age boys picked out

of mud, zipped into

plastic bags, and air-mailed

home to Mom.

 

White wings sweep over our beach

in formation: straw huts leap

 nto flame—something

press my M-16

is gone, is gone—I stagger up the sand,

to the skull of a peasant girl,

and watch the bone

go chipping off and dancing

through the flat blue keening

air.

  

 

 

Rose Ausländer--Austrian/American

 
 
 
       
Rose Ausländer
(1901-1988)

 

Rose Ausländer was born in Czernowitz, Austria in 1901. She studied philosophy at university. She immigrated to the United States in 1923 with her soon to be husband, Ignaz Ausländer. Neither the marriage, nor her stay in the U.S. lasted long. By 1931, she was back in Czernowitz where she worked as a teacher and began her life as a writer. Der Regenbogen (The Rainbow), her first collection of poetry, was published in 1939. As the war loomed close, she returned to New York, but in a few short months was back in Austria. Shortly after her return the ghetto of Czernowitz was occupied by the Nazis and closed. After the war she moved back to New York for a number of years, but in the mid-sixties moved to Germany. Her most popular books of poetry are Blinder Sommer (Blind Summer), Ohne Visum (Without Papers) and Andere Zeichen (Other Signs). She died in Düsseldorf in 1988.  

 

There is still so much to say

I do not forget
my paternal house
the voice of my mother
the first kiss
mountains of Bukovina
the escape during the First World War
the invasion of the Nazis
tremors of fear in the cellars
the doctor who saved our lives
soft-bitter America
Hölderlin Trakl Celan
my torments put into writing
the constraint to write is always

 

Motherland (an excerpt)
 
My Fatherland is dead.
They buried it
In fire
 
I live
In my Motherland—
Word
 
Translated by Eavan Boland

 
 

 

My Key
 
My key
has lost its house.
 
I go from house to house
but none fits.
 
I have found
the locksmith.
 
My key fits
into his grave.
 
Translated by Eavan Boland
 
 
 
Amazed
 
When the table is fragrant with bread
strawberries and with crystal wine
 
turn your mind to the chamber of smoke—
            that smoke without a shape—
 
            the garments of the ghetto
            not yet stripped away—
 
And we sit around the fragrant table
Amazed that we are sitting here.

 

 
 
At the End of Time
 
When the war is over
when time has come to an end
 
we’ll walk again
down an alley of mussel shells
and feel our oneness
with this man
and that man.
 
It will be wonderful
if and when that happens
when time has come to an end.
 
Translated by Eavan Boland
 
 
 
 

Ingeborg Bachman--Austrian

    

Ingeborg Bachman
(1926-1973)

 

Ingeborg Bachmann was born in Austria in 1926. She studied philosophy, psychology, philology and law at several universities, finally receiving a Ph.D. in philosophy. After graduation she began work as a scriptwriter and editor at a radio station, and simultaneously started her writing career. Early in her career Bachmann became a member of Gruppe 47 whose prestigious members included Paul Celan, Heinrich Böll and Gunter Grass. After the war she moved to Rome where she continued to write poetry, essays, opera libretti and short stories. She died in 1973 in a tragic fire. The German magazine, Die Spiegel declared Bachmann’s poetry, “A stenograph of its time.” She is recognized as one of German literature’s most important pre-war writers.

 

Brotherhood

Each and every thing cuts wounds,

and neither of us has forgiven the other.
Hurting like you and hurtful,
I lived towards you.


Every touch augments
the pure, the spiritual touch;
we experience it as we age,
turned into coldest silence.

Translated by Johannes Beilharz

 

 
After this Deluge

 

After this deluge
I wish to see the dove
saved,
nothing but the dove.

I would drown in this sea
if it did not fly away,
if it did not return with the leaf
in the final hour.

Translated by Johannes Beilharz

 

Every Day
 
War is no longer declared:
Just continued. The unheard-of
has become the quotidian.
The hero weasels out.
The weakling is at the front.
The uniform of the day is simply patience.
The highest decoration is the pathos of a star
of hope above the heart.
 
It is awarded
when nothing happens,
when the drum finale of the artillery falls silent,
when the enemy has become invisible,
when the eternal armament’s shadow
darkens the heaven.
 
It is awarded
for deserting the flag.
For courage in the face of a friend.
For betraying the secrets that shame us.
For the absolute disregard
of any and every order.
 
Translated by Eavan Boland

 

 

Donald Bain--British

(1922-    )

Born in 1922, Donald Bain attended Cambridge and along with Nicholas Moore, Hamish Henderson and Alex Comfort edited the prestigious Oxford and Cambridge Writing in 1942. During World War II, Bain served with the Royal Artillery and Gordon Highlands. His first book of published poetry comes from this period. His best known poem, “War Poet” is included in this section. Though he continued to write poetry, professionally he is an actor.

 

War Poet

We in our haste can only see the small components of the scene
We cannot tell what incidents will focus on the final screen.
A barrage of disruptive sound, a petal on a sleeping face,
Both must be noted, both must have their place.
 
It may be that our later selves or else our unborn sons
Will search for meaning in the dust of long-deserted guns,
We only watch, and indicate and make our scribbled pencil notes.
We do not wish to moralize, only to ease our dusty throats.

 



Aida Tsunao--Japanese

 
Tsunao Aida
(1914-1990)

Born in Japan in 1914, Tsuanao visited Nanking in 1940, and went on to work for a publishing house in Shanghai. He returned to Japan in 1945. Shortly afterwards he received the first Kotaro Takamura Poetry Prize for his collection of poems, A Lagoon.   His work is included in a number of international and Japanese journals, including Like Underground Water: Poetry of Mid-Twentieth Century Japan. He died in 1990.

 

Homecoming

Finally I returned.

To my desolate village.

Returned

Where my home had burned.

Wheat, wheat feeding on the ashes.

There I squatted

And emptied my bowels

For the last time

And fell along the earth

Like molted skin…

Some wandering dog

Will take my shoes.

And I

Will go into the earth,

To feed the wheat—

Grind the fat wheat

Into flour.

Translated by T. Fitzsimmons and R. Fukuda


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