bio

Ryuichi Tamura--Japanese

 

Ryuichi Tamura
(1923-    )

 

Tamura is regarded as one of the most important poets of the Second World War era.  Having served in the Japanese navy, Tamura felt that it was the responsibility of poets to help create a new approach to poetry for a new era.  After the war, Tamura helped begin a poetry magazine, The Waste Land.  It was through this publication that a new foundation for post-WWII poetry was laid.  The poets who contributed to this initial effort were dubbed “the Waste Land Poets.”  The work of these writers was especially influenced by T.S. Eliot, Steven Spender, C. Day Lewis and W.H. Auden.  His first book of poems, Four Thousand Days and Nights was published in 1956.  Tamura has composed over twenty volumes of poetry.  He died in 1998.


On My Way Home

I should never have learned words
how much better off I’d be
if I lived in a world
where meanings didn’t matter,
the world with no words

If beautiful words take revenge against you
it’s none of my concern
If quiet meanings make you bleed
it also is none of my concern

The tears in your gentle eyes
the pain that drips from your silent tongue –
I’d simply gaze at them and walk away
if our world had no words

In your tears
is there meaning like the core of a fruit?
In a drop of your blood
is there a shimmering resonance of the evening glow
of this world’s sunset?

I should never have learned words
Simply because I know Japanese and bits of a foreign tongue
I stand still inside your tears
I come back alone into your blood 

 

Withered Leaves

and             

they died       without even shedding green             

blood             

 

before they return to the soil             

they change to the color of soil             

the color of             

the silence that has died one death             

 

why does everything             

seem transparent       even though we walked endlessly             

through the border       of day and night             

through the withered leaves             

 

a man             

whose star is fixed             

does not turn back     


 

Four Thousand Days and Nights

 

In order for a single poem to come into existence,
you and I have to kill,
have to kill many things,
many lovable things, kill by shooting, kill by assassination,
kill by poisoning.

 

Look !

Out of the sky of four thousand days and nights,
just because we wanted the trembling tongue of one small bird,
four thousand nights of silence and four thousand days of counter light
you and I killed by shooting.

Listen!

Out of all the cities of falling rain, smelting furnaces,
midsummer harbors, and coal mines,
just because we needed the tears of a single hungry child
four thousand clays of love and four thousand nights of compassion
you and I killed by assassination.


Remember!


Just because we wanted the fear of one vagrant dog
who could see the things you and I couldn't see with our eyes
and could hear the things you and I couldn't hear with our ears,
four thousand nights of imagination and four thousand days of chilling recollection
you and I killed by poison.

In order for a single poem to come
you and I have to kill beloved things.
This is the only way to bring back the dead to life.
You and I have to follow that way.


         

Onishi Takijiro--Japanese

 

Admiral Onishi Takijiro
(1891-1945)

 

Takijiro, an Admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II, is known as the father of the kamikaze, a practice of making airplanes become human missiles.  Born in 1891, Takijiro was involved with naval aviation for a number of years before becoming the head of the Naval Aviation Development Division.  Takijiro was convinced that the only way that the Japanese could succeed in the Pacific War was to make a huge sacrifice.  In a moving speech to his men he asked: “there is only one way of assuring that our meager strength will be effective to a maximum degree. That is to organize suicide attack units composed of Zero fighters armed with 250-kilogram bombs, with each plane to crash-dive into an enemy carrier...”  The poem in this section, composed in traditional Japanese style, was written to his men.  He was killed in 1945.


“written for his kamikaze pilots”

In blossom today, then scattered;
Life is so like a delicate flower.
How can one expect the fragrance to last forever?

 

 

Wislawa Szymborski--Polish

 

Wislawa Szymborska
(1923-    )

 

Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996, translator and essayist.  Born in Bnin, Poland in 1923, her poetry books are revered in her native land, and have been translated into dozens of languages. During World War II, she continued her studies and worked as a railroad employee and managed to avoid being sent to Germany as a forced laborer. At this time she began illustrating English language textbooks in earnest.  She published her first poem, “Szukam slowa” (“I seek the word”), in 1945.  Her first book of poetry was published in 1949, but did not meet the specification of the Communist Party.  In these early years Szymborska kept close to the party line, but managed to leave the party in 1966.  In the years leading up to her leaving the party she intensified her opposition to the government. 


Tortures

Nothing has changed.
The body is susceptible to pain,
it must eat and breathe air and sleep,
it has thin skin and blood right underneath,
an adequate stock of teeth and nails,
its bones are breakable, its joints are stretchable.
In tortures all this is taken into account.

Nothing has changed.
The body shudders as it shuddered
before the founding of Rome and after,
in the twentieth century before and after Christ.
Tortures are as they were, it's just the earth that's grown smaller,
and whatever happens seems right on the other side of the wall.

Nothing has changed. It's just that there are more people,
besides the old offenses new ones have appeared,
real, imaginary, temporary, and none,
but the howl with which the body responds to them,
was, is and ever will be a howl of innocence
according to the time-honored scale and tonality.

Nothing has changed. Maybe just the manners, ceremonies, dances.
Yet the movement of the hands in protecting the head is the same.
The body writhes, jerks and tries to pull away,
its legs give out, it falls, the knees fly up,
it turns blue, swells, salivates and bleeds.

Nothing has changed. Except for the course of boundaries,
the line of forests, coasts, deserts and glaciers.
Amid these landscapes traipses the soul,
disappears, comes back, draws nearer, moves away,
alien to itself, elusive, at times certain, at others uncertain of its own existence,
while the body is and is and is
and has no place of its own.

 


Once We Knew...

Once we knew the world well.
It was so small it could fit in a handshake,
so easy you could describe it with a smile,
it was ordinary as old truths in a prayer.

History did not welcome us with fanfares.
It threw filthy dust into our eyes.
Before us only dead-end roads,
poisoned wells, bitter bread.

Our war's booty is knowledge of the world.
It is so large it can fit in a handshake.
so difficult you can describe it with a smile,
it is extraordinary as old truths in a prayer.

 

 

Still 

In sealed box cars travel
names across the land,
and how far they will travel so,
and will they ever get out,
don't ask, I won't say, I don't know.

The name Nathan strikes fist against wall,
the name Isaac, demented, sings,
the name Sarah calls out for water
for the name Aaron that's dying of thirst.

Don't jump while it's moving, name David.
You're a name that dooms to defeat,
given to no one, and homeless,
too heavy to bear in this land.

Let your son have a Slavic name,
for here they count hairs on the head,
for here they tell good from evil
by names and by eyelids' shape.

Don't jump while it's moving. Your son will be Lech.
Don't jump while it's moving. Not time yet.
Don't jump. The night echoes like laughter
mocking clatter of wheels upon tracks.

A cloud made of people moved over the land,
a big cloud gives a small rain, one tear,
a small rain-one tear, a dry season.
Tracks lead off into black forest.

Cor-rect, cor-rect clicks the wheel. Gladless forest.
Cor-rect, cor-rect. Through the forest a convoy of clamors.
Cor-rect, cor-rect. Awakened in the night I hear
cor-rect, cor-rect, crash of silence on silence.

 

Translated from Polish by Magnus J. Krynski

 

 

 

Wladyslaw Szlengel--Polish

 

Władysław Szlengel
(1914-1943)

Poet, composer, and short-story writer, Wladyslaw Szlengel was born in Poland, in 1914.  He started writing as a youth, and his poems “were highly popular in the [Warsaw] ghetto and reflected its mood.”  It was reported that they were copied, passed hand to hand, and were frequently recited at meetings.  For a period of time Szlengel worked as a ghetto policeman, but resigned, since he found it impossible to roundup Jews for deportation.  In 1939, he participated in a campaign against the Nazi.  For a period of time he was the only writer left in the ghetto so he became its chronicler.  Szlengel was killed in April 1943 under unknown circumstances.


"An Account with God" ...

Do You still expect that
The day after tomorrow like in the Testament
When going to the Prussian gas
I shall still say "Amen" to You?

Hear, O God of the Germans,
the Jews praying amid the barbarians,
an iron rod or a grenade in their hands.
Give us, O God, a bloody fight
and let us die a swift death!

 


A Cry in the Night
 

These poems were written between the first
And second upheavals,
In the last dying days of agony
Of the largest Jewish community in Europe
Between July and September 1942,
I dedicate it to people on whom I could lean
Myself in the hours of blizzard and complete chaos
To those few  who knew in the whirlpool of events,
In the dance of fate death and protectionism
Remember, that not only family...not only
Connections... not only money...
But also must be saved those few and

the last of the Mohicans,
Whose entire capital and
Entire arms is only the word,
To those to whom my cry has reached...

My Cry...

in the night...

 

Translated by John Nowik and Ada Holtzman

 

 

Two Gentlemen in the Snow

Snow is falling, angry, pervasive,
trimming my collar with white wool.
We’re together in the empty street,
a Jewish slave-worker and a soldier.

I am homeless, and so are you.
Time’s boulder is crushing our lives.
So much divides us … just think of it …
but now the snow unites us.

Because of you I can’t budge.
You too—youhave no choice.
Which one of us is holding whom?
It’s a third one who holds us both.

Your uniform is dashing, I admit.
I wouldn’t dare compare with you,
though the snow can’t tell us apart
the Jew and the handsome soldier.

Snow falls equally on me and on you.
It sheds so much white peace …
We both stare through the white veil
at the faraway light in the dusk.

Look, what am I up to? What are you up to?
What for? And who needs it?
Listen, my buddy, it snows and snows,
let’s split, and let’s go home.

Translation by Yala Korwin

 

 

The Little Station: Treblinka


On the Tluszcz-Warsaw line,
from the Warsaw-East station,
you leave by rail
and ride straight on …
The journey lasts, sometimes
five hours & 45 minutes,
but sometimes it lasts
a lifetime until death.

The station is tiny.
Three fir trees grow there.
The sign is ordinary:
it’s the Treblinka station.

No cashier’s window,
No porter in view,
No return tickets,
Not even for a million.

There, no one is waiting,
no one waves a kerchief,
and only silence hovers,
deaf emptiness greets you.

Silent the flagpole,
silent the fir trees,
silent the black sign:
it’s the Treblinka station.

Only an old poster
with fading letters 
advises:
“Cook with gas.”


 

Ruth Stone--American

 

Ruth Stone
(1915-    )

 

Born in 1915, in Roanoke, Virginia, Ruth Stone is a teacher and writer of poetry.  She was a creative writing teacher at a number of universities.  She won the 2002 National Book Award for In the Next Galaxy.  She has published eight collections of poetry and several chapbooks, and has been included in numerous anthologies and literary journals.  She has been recipient of many awards: Wallace Stevens, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Bess Hokin award from Poetry magazine, the Shelley Memorial, the Vermont Cerf award for lifetime achievement in the arts, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.


That Other War

A bird sings in the tree you planted

beside your stamped-out storage barn,

plastic barn that fits all over

America in three sizes; the bird does not know

that you have gone away, worker of puzzles,

hero of the Philippines.  You who wanted

no more than flower beds, zoysia grass,

a round of golf.  Years passed

before you told us that after laying down

the communication lines, you returned

to find them all ambushed; torsos

severed.   Some had no faces.

After the war it seemed the war

in the head didn’t end so easily.

In the night you would try to choke

your wife and she would wake you up.

But even that passes.

 

This bird sings for itself

a soft unconscious mourning.

Your wife hears it but does not

know that she is listening.

Her collection of figurines

still on the shelves you built

for them and she is still

working in this grocery and that,

handing out coupons and samples.


 

In the Next Galaxy

Things will be different.
No one will lose their sight,
their hearing, their gallbladder.
It will be all Catskills with brand
new wrap-around verandas.
The idea of Hitler will not
have vibrated yet.
While back here,
they are still cleaning out
pockets of wrinkled
Nazis hiding in Argentina.
But in the next galaxy,
certain planets will have true
blue skies and drinking water. 
 

 

 

W.D. Snodgrass --American

 

W.D. Snodgrass
(1926-    )

 

William De Witt Snodgrass was born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1926. Snodgrass served in the U.S. Navy, and following the war earned his M.F.A.  His first book of poetry, Heart’s Needled, published in 1959 was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  He is credited with being one of the founders of the “Confessional Movement” of poetry.  Snodgrass has published a number of books of poetry, most notable being: Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems (BOA Editions, 2006); The Führer Bunker: The Complete Cycle (1995); Each in His Season (1993); Selected Poems, 1957-1987; The Führer Bunker: A Cycle of Poems in Progress (1977), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and produced by Wynn Handman for The American Place Theatre; and After Experience (1968).

Magda Goebbels

(After Dr. Haase gave them shots of morphine,

Magda gave each child an ampule of potassium

cyanide from a spoon.)

 

This is the needle that we give

Soldiers and children when they live

Near the front in primitive

    Conditions or real dangers;

This is the spoon we use to feed

Men trapped in trouble or in need,

When weakness or bad luck might lead

    Them to the hands of strangers.

 

This is the room where you can sleep

Your sleep out, curled up under deep

Layers of covering that will keep

    You safe till all harm’s past.

This is the bed where you can rest

In perfect silence, undistressed

By noise or nightmares, as my breast

    Once held you soft but fast.

 

This is the Doctor who has brought

Your needle with your special shot

To quiet you; you won’t get caught

    Off guard or unprepared.

I am your nurse who’ll comfort you;

I nursed you, fed you till you grew

Too big to feed; now you’re all through

    Fretting or feeling scared.

 

This is the glass tube that contains

Calm that will spread down through your veins

To free you finally from all pains

    Of going on in error.

This tiny pinprick sets the germ

Inside you that fills out its term

Till you can feel yourself grow firm

    Against all doubt, all terror.

 

Into this spoon I break the pill

That stiffens the unsteady will

And hardens you against the chill

    Voice of a world of lies.

 

This amber medicine implants

Steadfastness in your blood; this grants

Immunity from greed and chance,

    And from all compromise.

 

This is the serum that can cure

Weak hearts; these pure, clear drops insure

You’ll face what comes and can endure

    The test; you’ll never falter.

This is the potion that preserves

You in a faith that never swerves;

This sets the pattern of your nerves

    Too firm for you to alter.

 

I set this spoon between your tight

Teeth, as I gave you your first bite;

This satisfies your appetite

    For other nourishment.

Take this on your tongue; this do

Remembering your mother who

So loved her Leader she stayed true

    When all the others went,

 

When every friend proved false, in the

Delirium of treachery

On every hand, when even He

    Had turned His face aside.

He shut himself in with His whore;

Then, though I screamed outside His door,

Said He’d not see me anymore.

    They both took cyanide.

 

Open wide, now, little bird;

I who sang you your first word

Soothe away every sound you’ve heard

    Except your Leader’s voice.

Close your eyes, now; take your death.

Once we slapped you to take breath.

Vengeance is mine, the Lord God saith

    And cancels each last choice.

Once, my first words marked out your mind;

Just as our Leader’s phrases bind

All hearts to Him, building a blind

    Loyalty through the nation,

We shape you into a pure form.

Trapped, our best soldiers tricked the storm,

The Reds: those last hours, they felt warm

    Who stood fast to their station.

 

You needn’t fear what your life meant;

You won’t curse how your hours were spent;

You’ll grow like your own monument

    To all things sure and good,

Fixed like a frieze in high relief

Of granite figures that our Chief

Accepts into His true belief,

    His true blood-brotherhood.

 

You’ll never bite the hand that fed you,

Won’t turn away from those that bred you,

Comforted your nights and led you

    Into the thought of virtue;

You won’t be turned from your own bed;

Won’t turn into that thing you dread;

No new betrayal lies ahead;

    Now no one else can hurt you.

 

 

 

Kendrick Smithyman--New Zealander

 

Kendrick Smithyman
(1922-    )

 

Born in New Zealand in 1922, Kendrick Smithyman was one of New Zealand’s most prolific writers.  His career spanned over five decades.  The Collected Poems, completed shortly before his death in 1995, contain 1500 poems.  However, not included are several hundred poems which Smithyman decided that he did not want to preserve.  Smithyman entered the New Zealand military in 1941, and served as a bombardier, a quartermaster and then in 1942, joined the Royal NZ Air Force.  It was during the war that he began to write poetry on a regular basis.  Following the war Smithyman entered the teaching profession and continued to work with special needs children for almost twenty years.  He retired in 1963 to devote most of his time to writing.


Armistice

… Jesu, Jesu, the mad days that I have spent! and to
see how many of mine old acquaintance are dead!

Silence: We shall follow, cousin.

Now through tatty Memory’s fingers
pass out sorrows, shred out angers.

Everything is passing. Go,
indignations. Go, dangers.
All temptations, get and go,
may those years be buried deep.
What scrap of trivia should you keep?
Let no recollection show.

Pray Gunner Silence your companion
at the Battery Reunion.

 

 

Kenneth Slessor--Australian

 

Kenneth Slessor
(1901-1971)

 

Slessor’s background is that of a journalist and war correspondent, though he found himself turning to poetry throughout World War II.  Born in Orange, New South Wales, Australia in 1901, he contributed to the Bulletin literary magazine while still in school.  From 1920-1925 he wrote for the Melbourne Punch and Melbourne Herald.  In 1927 he moved to Sydney to work on Smith’s Weekly, a position he held until 1939.  At the out break of war he was appointed as an Australian war correspondent and spent time in New Guinea, England, Greece, and the Middle East.  Following the war he worked for the Sydney Sun and was the editor of the literary magazine, Southerly from 1956-61.  He died in 1971.


Beach Burial

Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.

Between the sob and clubbing of gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon the nakedness;

And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,
Bears the last signature of men,
Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity,
The words choke as they begin -

"Unknown seaman" - the ghostly pencil
Wavers and fades, the purple drips,
The breath of wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men's lips,

Dead seaman, gone in search of the same landfall,
Whether as enemies they fought,
Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the other front.

 

 

Edith Sitwell--British

 

       

Edith Sitwell
(1887-1964)

 

Dame Edith Sitwell, born into an aristocratic and eccentric family in1887, was in the forefront of the literary world for most of her adult life.  A poet, critic and writer, Sitwell’s first poetry appeared in 1913, and between1916-21 she edited Wheels, an annual poetry anthology along with her two brothers.  Sitwell was very interested in the marriage and interplay between poetry and music.  A subject she explored successful in Gold Coast Customs and later in Façade in 1921.  Her only novel, I Live under a Black Sun, was published in 1937.  She moved to France in 1932, but returned to England after the death of her mother in 1937.  During the war years she wrote with “emotional depth” about what was occurring all around her.  Her poetry during this time was received with appreciation.  She died in 1964.


Still Falls the Rain

Still falls the Rain—

Dark as the world of man, black as our loss—
Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails
Upon the Cross.

Still falls the Rain
With a sound like the pulse of the heart that is changed to the hammer-beat
In the Potter's Field, and the sound of the impious feet

On the Tomb:
                  Still falls the Rain

In the Field of Blood where the small hopes breed and the human brain
Nurtures its greed, that worm with the brow of Cain.

Still falls the Rain
At the feet of the Starved Man hung upon the Cross.
Christ that each day, each night, nails there, have mercy on us—
On Dives and on Lazarus:
Under the Rain the sore and the gold are as one.

Still falls the Rain—
Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man's wounded Side:
He bears in His Heart all wounds,—-those of the light that died,
The last faint spark
In the self-murdered heart, the wounds of the sad uncomprehending dark,
The wounds of the baited bear—-
The blind and weeping bear whom the keepers beat
On his helpless flesh… the tears of the hunted hare.

Still falls the Rain—
Then— O I’ll leap up to my God: who pulls me down—
See, see where Christ's blood streams in the firmament:
It flows from the Brow we nailed upon the tree

Deep to the dying, to the thirsting heart
That holds the fires of the world,—dark-smirched with pain
As Caesar's laurel crown.

Then sounds the voice of One who like the heart of man
Was once a child who among beasts has lain—
"Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood, for thee."


 

 

Dirge For The New Sunrise

(Fifteen minutes past eight o'clock, on the morning of Monday the 6th of August, 1945)

Bound to my heart as Ixion to the wheel,
Nailed to my heart as the Thief upon the Cross
I hang between our Christ and the gap where the world was lost

And watch the phantom Sun in Famine Street
--The ghost of the heart of Man . . . red Cain,
And the more murderous brain
Of Man, still redder Nero that conceived the death
Of his mother Earth, and tore
Her womb, to know the place where he was conceived.

But no eyes grieved—
For none were left for tears:
They were blinded as the years

Since Christ was born. Mother or Murderer, you have given
or taken life—
Now all is one!

There was a morning when the holy Light
Was young . . . The beautiful First Creature came
To our water-springs, and thought us without blame.

Our hearts seemed safe in our breasts and sang to the Light--
The marrow in the bone
We dreamed was safe . . . the blood in the veins, the sap in the
tree
Were springs of the Deity.

But I saw the little Ant-men as they ran
Carrying the world's weight of the world's filth
And the filth in the heart of Man --
Compressed till those lusts and greeds had a greater heat than
that of the Sun.

And the ray from that heat came soundless, shook the sky
As if in search for food, and squeezed the stems
Of all that grows on the earth till they were dry.
The eyes that saw, the lips that kissed, are gone
--Or black as thunder lie and grin at the murdered Sun.

The living blind and seeing dead together lie
As if in love . . . There was no more hating then—
And no more love: Gone is the heart of Man.

 

 

Louis Simpson--Jamaican/American

 

Louis Simpson
(1901-1971)

 

Louis Aston Marantz Simpson was born in Jamaica in 1923.  He came to the U.S. at the age of seventeen to attend Columbia University.  During the war he was a member of the 101st Airborn Division and fought in Western Europe.  Following the war he attended the University of Paris.  His first book, The Arrivistes, published in 1949 was received favorably.  Upon returning to the U.S. he earned a Ph.D and taught at a number of Universities.  He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1962 and the Prix de Rome.  Simpson was awarded the 1964 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his work, At the End of the Open Road


Carentan O Carentan

Trees in the old days used to stand
And shape a shady lane
Where lovers wandered hand in hand
Who came from Carentan.

This was the shining green canal
Where we came two by two
Walking at combat-interval.
Such trees we never knew.

The day was early June, the ground
Was soft and bright with dew.
Far away the guns did sound,
But here the sky was blue.

The sky was blue, but there a smoke
Hung still above the sea
Where the ships together spoke
To towns we could not see.

Could you have seen us through a glass
You would have said a walk
Of farmers out to turn the grass,
Each with his own hay-fork.

The watchers in their leopard suits
Waited till it was time,
And aimed between the belt and boot
And let the barrel climb.

I must lie down at once, there is
A hammer at my knee.
And call it death or cowardice,
Don't count again on me.

Everything's all right, Mother,
Everyone gets the same
At one time or another.
It's all in the game.

 

I never strolled, nor ever shall,

Down such a leafy lane.
I never drank in a canal,
Nor ever shall again.

There is a whistling in the leaves
And it is not the wind,
The twigs are falling from the knives
That cut men to the ground.

Tell me, Master-Sergeant,
The way to turn and shoot.
But the Sergeant's silent
That taught me how to do it.

O Captain, show us quickly
Our place upon the map.
But the Captain's sickly
And taking a long nap.

Lieutenant, what's my duty,
My place in the platoon?
He too's a sleeping beauty,
Charmed by that strange tune.

Carentan O Carentan
Before we met with you
We never yet had lost a man
Or known what death could do.

 

 

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