Richard Hugo--American

Richard Hugo (Hogan)


Born Richard Hogan in 1923, Hugo legally changed his name in 1942. Hugo served as a bombardier in World War II and left the service as a first lieutenant in 1945. After the war, he enrolled at the University of Washington and received B.A. and M.A. degrees. He worked for the Boeing Corporation for thirteen years as a technical writer. His first book of poems, A Run with Jacks, was published in 1961. taught at the University of Montana for eighteen years. In 1977 he was named the editor of the prestigious Yale Younger Poets Series. Hugo penned a number of books between 1965 and his early death in 1982 at the age of fifty-eight. Among his best known writings are: Death of the Kapowsin Tavern, Good Luck in Cracked Italian and The Triggering Town. Hugo wrote his war poems while on a trip to Europe twenty years after the war.

The Yards of Sarajevo

Time of day: a dim dream, probably
late afternoon. Children watch our train
pull into the yard. Other late dark
afternoons and porches seem remote.
These people, tracks and cars were what
we came to bomb nineteen years ago
and missed six miles through blinding clouds.
One war started here. The coal smoke
of our dirty train compounds the gloom.
The past is always dim. A plot. A gun.
The Archduke falling. A world gone
back to mud. Our long day from Dubrovnik
grates to a stop. Air is getting black.
I was five miles up there sighting
on this spot. I can’t speak Serb or read
Cyrillic listings of departure times.
Even long wars end. Dukes and Kings 
tell peasants old jokes underground.
This was small and foreign five miles down.
Why am I at home? The tongue is odd,
the station loud. All rebuilt
and modern. Only the lighting bad.

Napoli Again

Long before I hear it, Naples bright
with buildings trumpets from the hill.
A tugboat toots “paisan” and I am back.
That dock I sailed from eighteen years ago.
This bay had a fleet of half-sunk ships.
Where those dapper men are drinking wine,
A soldier beat an urchin with a belt.
Fountains didn’t work. I remember stink.
Streets and buildings all seemed brown.
Romans hate such recent ruins,
bombed-out houses you do not repair.
Better pillars one must work to date.
Forget the innocent cut down, 
cats gone crazy from the bombs
waiting down those alleys for delicious eyes.
Here, the glass replaced in galleria roofs,
cappuccino too high priced, it’s hard
to go back years and feed the whores for free.
I’ll never think of virgin angels here.
Did I walk this street before,
protesting: I am kind. You switch the menu,
gyp me on the bill. Remember me? My wings?
The silver target and the silver bomb?
Take the extra coin. I only came 
to see you living and the fountains run.

Lawson Fusao Inada--American

Lawson Fusao Inada 
(1938-     )  

Lawson Fusao Inada was born in Fresno, California in 1938. At the outbreak of World War II, Inada was forced into an internment camp with his family. Much of his writing reflects his experiences in the three camps in which he resided. Before the War, published in 1971, was one of the first works released by an Asian American writer. Inada helped to edit, Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian Writers, along with three others, Wong, Chan and Chin. Together they are often referred to as “The Gang of Four,” and are credited with pioneering the field of Asian American literature. Inada has a strong interest in music and jazz, both of which have influenced his poetry. He has been recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and won the American Book Award for Legends from Camp, published in 1994.


Drawing the Line

All I wanted
Was a place to live,
How we had always known,
Women among huckleberries,
Tules that teach
Children of junipers, geese and sky.

All I wanted
Was to fight to live,
To be left alone.

All I wanted
Was a concession to dignity,
Our own reservation.

All I wanted
Was our own

All I wanted
Was to die.

Looking into the eyes
of my children,
the gifted young,

Who wished me in women's clothes,
Who silently called me
white and compromiser,

I see the why
I am
The renegade
I am
The revolutionary
I will always be.

What land we had
We must have back again.
This is the stronghold,

The heart, the spirit, 
The land, the heart. 

This termination, this
Extermination, this
Compromise to survive.

The fenced-in barracks
Still stand
Beyond the ancient carvings
Of Prisoner Rock.
The signs are right.
The spirit. The land.
We must have back again.

Those of us still alive
Singing assimilation
With the flick of wrists,
Thrive on the sick
Blood of subjugation
Here on this very land
Where we died.

Captain Jack
Will be hanged
Tomorrow. "Instructions

To all persons
Of Japanese ancestry...

This is the stronghold,
The heart, the molten
Flow, solidified
Blood of ancestors.
The blood of us is the red tule rope.

What are you worth
In the eyes
Of your sons?
The blood of us
Is the red Tule rope.



John Jarmain--British

John Jarmain was killed during the Normandy landings at the age of 33. He left behind a wife, a daughter and a small book of poetry. Educated at Queen’s College, Cambridge, Jarmain was trained as a mathematician. He fought at the Battle of Alamein, a battle that took place in the Egyptian desert, and has been viewed as a turning point for the British in the war, or as Churchill called it, “the end of the beginning.” Jarmain wrote his most important poem, simply titled, “Battle of Alamein,” less than six months after the event.


El Alamein

There are flowers now, they say, at El Alamein;
Yes, flowers in the minefields now.
So those that come to view that vacant scene,
Where death remains and agony has been
Will find the lilies grow –
Flowers, and nothing that we know.
So they rang the bells for us and Alamein,
Bells which we could not hear.
And to those that heard the bells what could it mean,
The name of loss and pride, El Alamein?
Not the murk and harm of war.
But their hope, their own warm prayer.
It will become a staid historic name,
That crazy sea of sand !
Like Troy or Agincourt its single fame
Will be the garland for our brow, our claim,
On us a fleck of glory to the end ;
And there our dead will keep their holy ground.
But this is not the place that we recall,
The crowded desert crossed with foaming tracks,
The one blotched building, lacking half a wall,
The grey-faced men, sand-powdered over all ;
The tanks, the guns, the trucks,
The black, dark-smoking wrecks.
So be it ; none but us has known that land :
El Alamein will still be only ours
And those ten days of chaos in the sand.
Others will come who cannot understand,
Will halt beside the rusty minefield wires
and find there, flowers.


At A War Grave

No grave is rich, the dust that herein lies

Beneath this white cross mixing with the sand

Was vital once, with skill of eye and hand

And speed of brain. These will not re-arise

These riches, nor will they be replaced;

They are lost and nothing now, and here is left

Only a worthless corpse of sense bereft,

Symbol of death, and sacrifice and waste.




Randall Jarrell--American

Randall Jarrell

One of Jarrell’s most famous poems is “The Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner."  Born in Nashville, Tennesse, Jarrell graduated from Vanderbilt University, and became associated with a group of writers that comprised the Fugitives group. He attended Kenyon College and became a roommate of Robert Lowell. Jarrell went on to teach at Kenyon, the University of Texas, University of Illinois, Sarah Lawrence, and the Universities of North Carolina at Greensboro and Chapel Hill. Blood from a Stranger, published in 1942 was his first book of poetry. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, but did not qualify to fly, instead he worked stateside as a control tower operator. Little Friend, Little Friend and Losses, published in 1945 and 1948 respectively dealt with many of his experiences in the Army. Jarrell is also known for his literary criticism. He was named U.S. poet laureate from 1956-1958.  Jarrell was struck by a car and died from the accident in 1965.



Did they send me away from my cat and my wife
To a doctor who poked me and counted my teeth,
To a line on a plain, to a stove in a tent?
Did I nod in the flies of the schools?
And the fighters rolled into the tracer like rabbits,
The blood froze over my splints like a scab—
Did I snore, all still and grey in the turret,
Till the palms rose out of the sea with my death?
And the world ends here, in the sand of a grave,
All my wars over? How easy it was to die!
Has my wife a pension of so many mice?
Did the medals go home to my cat? 

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed meout of the turret with a hose.




Elizabeth Jennings--British

Elizabeth Jennings

Like so many contemporary poets of her time, Elizabeth Jennings, attended Oxford, fell in love with poetry and soon began to write.  After graduation from St. Ann’s College—Oxford, Jennings became a librarian. Her first collection of poetry was published in 1953. Throughout her life Jennings published over 20 volumes of poetry. Linked with Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin and Thom Gunn, in a group known as “The Movement,” Jennings’ work stood out for its “unassuming technical craft and emotional restraint.” A practicing Catholic, Jennings is seen as having a spiritual nature. Throughout the 1960s she was hailed as one of the most popular English poets. Her work won her consistent praise and awards—The W.H. Smith Literary Award and the Somerset Maugham Award being two of the most significant. Jennings died in 2001.


The Second World War
The voice said 'We are at War'
And I was afraid,
for I did not know what this meant.
My sister and I ran to our friends next door
As if they could help.
History was lessons learnt
With ancient dates, but here
Was something utterly new,
The radio, called the wireless then, had said
That the country would have to be brave.
There was much to do.
And I remember that night as I lay in bed I thought of soldiers who
Had stood on our nursery floor
Holding guns, on guard and stiff.
But war meant blood
Shed over battle-fields,
Cavalry galloping.
War On that September Sunday made us feel frightened

Of what our world waited for.



In Memory of Anyone Unknown to Me

At this particular time I have no one
Particular person to grieve for, though there must
Be many, many unknown ones going to dust
Slowly, not remembered for what they have done
Or left undone. For these, then, I will grieve
Being impartial, unable to deceive.

How they lived, or died, is quite unknown,
And, by that fact gives my grief purity—
An important person quite apart from me
Or one obscure who drifted down alone.
Both or all I remember, have a place.
For these I never encountered face to face.

Sentiment will creep in. I cast it out
Wishing to give these classical repose,
No epitaph, no poppy and no rose
From me, and certainly no wish to learn about
The way they lived or died. In earth or fire
They are gone. Simply because they were human, I admire.

Zoe Karelli--Greek

Zoe Karelli


Chryssoula Argiriadou wrote under the pen-name of Zoe Karelli.  Born in Thessaloniki, Greece in 1901, Karelli is one of Greece’s favorite poets.  Her work speaks to the hard questions of life, but is filled with an optimistic sense of hope.  Karelli is viewed as a pioneer feminist in Greece.  Her writing career begun as a writer of short stories.  She published ten collections of poetry.  Karelli was the first woman of letters to be elected to the Academy of Athens in 1982, and received the coveted Ouranis Award for her complete works in 1978.  She died in her beloved Thessaloniki in 1998 at the age of 96.




They made packages of the human presence,

whatever remained of their bodies,

to return them to their native land.

One name one date is what is left

of the young man who stood erect,

in the light of life, who laughed,

or remained thoughtful, when he was sad.

He may have been insignificant in his life.

He had the idea he could die for duty.
But life is so beautiful,

beyond the cruelest struggle beauty exists

that we may live, in girlhood resembling a flower,

in young manhood a strong tree.

I hesitate, that I am so sad

and I lament the destruction of human beings.

The clank of courage must be strong to be heard,

for us to put the dead behind us,

for us to cross over the bend.

Brothers, I can tell you with passion

and a loud voice life invites us to forget death.

(of others or our own?). 

Let us comprehend submission,  

a good solution, for us to know fortitude,

to attempt extra courage on our march.

I think of the human presence,

That awakens so much love,

Pains and feelings, passions

That is strength and beauty

Then remains a faceless shadow.
Translated by Rae Dalven


Kimiko Hahn--American


Kimiko Hahn
(1955-        )

Kimiko Hahn is a poet and educator. Partly of Japanese descent she was born in Mt. Kisco, New York in 1955. She studied English and East Asian Studies at the University of Iowa and received an M.A. in Japanese Literature from Columbia University in 1984. She is the author of seven collections of poetry, including The Narrow Road to the Interior, The Artist’s Daughter, Mosquito and Volatile. She received the American Book Award for her collection, The Unbearable Heart which was published in 1995. Hahn has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, The Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Price and the Association of Asian American Studies Literature Award. She is a Distinguished Professor of English at Queens College/CUNY.


The Bath: August 6, 1945 

Bathing the summer night
off my arms and breasts
I heard a plane
overhead I heard
the door rattle
then relaxed
in the cool water
one more moment
one private moment
before waking the children
and mother-in-law,
before the heat
before the midday heat
drenched my spirits again.
I had wanted
to also relax
in thoughts of my husband--
how we were children
when he was drafted
imprisoned--but didn't dare
and rose from the tub,
dried off lightly
and slipped on cotton work pants.
Caution drew me to the window
and there an enormous blossom of fire
a hand changed my life
and made the world shiver--
a light that tore flesh
so that it slipped off limbs,
swelled so
no one could recognize
a mother or child
a hand that tore the door open
pushed me on the floor
ripped me up—
I will never have children again
So even today
my hair has not grown back
my teeth still shards
and one eye blind
and it would be easy,
satisfying somehow
to write it off as history
those men are there

each time I close
my one good eye
each time or lay blame 
on men or militarists
the children cry out
in my sleep
where they still live
for the sake of a night’s rest.
But it isn’t air raids
That we survive
But gold worth its weight
In blood the coal,
Oil, uranium we mine
And drill
Yet cannot call our own
And it would be gratifying
to be called a survivor
I am a survivor
since I live
if I didn't wonder
about survival today--
at 55, widowed at 18--
if I didn't feel
the same oppressive August heat
auto parts in South Africa,
Mexico, Alabama,
and shiver not from memory
or terror
but anger that this wounded body
must stand take a stand
and cry out
as only a newborn baby can cry--
I live, I will live
I will to live
in spite of history
to make history
in my vision of peace--
that morning in the bath
so calm
so much my right
though I cannot return to that moment
I bring these words to you
hoping to hold you

to hold you
and to take hold.




Anthony Hecht--American



Anthony Hecht


There were many notables in Anthony Hecht’s life.  A good family friend, Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss), was enlisted by his parents to discourage him from being a poet, his classmate was Jack Kerouac, and his college friends were Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell, Elizabeth Bishop and Allen Tate.  Born in New York City in 1923, Hecht was drafted into the 97th Infantry Division of the military and sent to Europe after his graduation from Bard College in 1944.  He was involved in the liberation of the Flossenbürg concentration camp.  This experience haunted him for years to come.  Hecht won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1968 for his collection, The Hard Hours.  He was U.S. Poet Laureate from 1982-84.  He died in 2004.


A Hill

In Italy, where this sort of thing can occur,
I had a vision once - though you understand
It was nothing at all like Dante's, or the visions of saints,
And perhaps not a vision at all. I was with some
Picking my way through a warm, sunlit piazza
In the early morning. A clear fretwork of shadows
From huge umbrellas littered the pavement and made
A sort of lucent shallows in which was moored
A small navy of carts. Books, coins, old maps,
Cheap landscapes and ugly religious prints
Were all on sale. The colors and noise
Like the flying hands were gestures of exultation,
So that even the bargaining
Rose to the ear like a voluble godliness.
And then, when it happened, the noises suddenly stopped,
And it got darker; pushcarts and people dissolved
And even the great Farnese Palace itself
Was gone, for all its marble; in its place
Was a hill, mole-colored and bare. It was very cold,
Close to freezing, with a promise of snow.
The trees were like old ironwork gathered for scrap
Outside a factory wall. There was no wind,
And the only sound for a while was the little click
Of ice as it broke in the mud under my feet.
I saw a piece of ribbon snagged on a hedge,
But no other sign of life. And then I heard
What seemed the crack of a rifle. A hunter, I guessed;
At least I was not alone. But just after that
Came the soft and papery crash
Of a great branch somewhere unseen falling to earth.

And that was all, except for the cold and silence
That promised to last forever, like the hill.

Then prices came through, and fingers, and I was restored
To the sunlight and my friends. But for more than a week
I was scared by the plain bitterness of what I had seen.
All this happened about ten years ago,
And it hasn't troubled me since, but at last, today,
I remembered that hill; it lies just to the left
Of the road north of Poughkeepsie; and as a boy
I stood before it for hours in wintertime.


The Dover Bitch: A Criticism of Life

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, "Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc."
Well now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
the notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As sort of a mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
and finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come,
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d'Amour.


More Light! More Light!
            For Heinrich Blucher and Hannah Arendt

Composed in the Tower before his execution
These moving verses, and being brought at that time
Painfully to the stake, submitted, declaring thus:
"I implore my God to witness that I have made no crime."
Nor was he forsaken of courage, but the death was horrible,
The sack of gunpowder failing to ignite.
His legs were blistered sticks on which the black sap
Bubbled and burst as he howled for the Kindly Light.
And that was but one, and by no means one of he worst;
Permitted at least his pitiful dignity;
And such as were by made prayers in the name of Christ,
That shall judge all men, for his soul's tranquility.
We move now to outside a German wood.
Three men are there commanded to dig a hole
In which the two Jews are ordered to lie down
And be buried alive by the third, who is a Pole.
Not light from the shrine at Weimar beyond the hill
Nor light from heaven appeared. But he did refuse.
A Luger settled back deeply in its glove.
He was ordered to change places with the Jews.
Much casual death had drained away their souls.
The thick dirt mounted toward the quivering chin.
When only the head was exposed the order came
To dig him out again and to get back in.
No light, no light in the blue Polish eye.
When he finished a riding boot packed down the earth.
The Luger hovered lightly in its glove.
He was shot in the belly and in three hours bled to death.
No prayers or incense rose up in those hours
Which grew to be years, and every day came mute
Ghosts from the ovens, sifting through crisp air,
And settled upon his eyes in a black soot.



Zbigniew Herbert--Polish



Zbigniew Herbert


Herbert was born in 1924 in a Polish-speaking area of the former Soviet Union. During the war he studied Polish literature at the clandestine Jan Kazimierz University. It was at this time he came into contact with the Home Army resistance movement of which he became an active member. He moved to Cracow in 1944 where he studied law and philosophy. His first collection of poetry, String of Light, was published in 1956. Throughout the 1950s he was forced to work at menial jobs because of his refusal to adhere to the official Communist party doctrine. He became editor of Poezja, one of Poland’s leading poetry magazine, a position he held from 1963-1968. His early work was translated into English in 1968, by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott,  making him one of the most popular contemporary poets in the English-speaking world. He died in Warsaw in 1998. 

Report from the Besieged City

Too old to carry arms and fight like the others -

they graciously gave me the inferior role of chronicler

I record - I don't know for whom - the history of the siege

I am supposed to be exact but I don't know when the invasion began

two hundred years ago in December in September perhaps yesterday at dawn

everyone here suffers from a loss of the sense of time

all we have left is the place the attachment to the place

we still rule over the ruins of temples spectres of gardens and houses

if we lose the ruins nothing will be left

I write as I can in the rhythm of interminable weeks

monday: empty storehouses a rat became the unit of currency

tuesday: the mayor murdered by unknown assailants

wednesday: negotiations for a cease-fire the enemy has imprisoned our messengers

we don't know where they are held that is the place of torture

thursday: after a stormy meeting a majority of voices rejected

the motion of the spice merchants for unconditional surrender

friday: the beginning of the plague saturday: our invincible defender

N.N. committed suicide sunday: no more water we drove back

an attack at the eastern gate called the Gate of the Alliance

all of this is monotonous I know it can't move anyone

I avoid any commentary I keep a tight hold on my emotions I write about the facts

only they it seems are appreciated in foreign markets

yet with a certain pride I would like to inform the world

that thanks to the war we have raised a new species of children

our children don’t like fairy tales they play at killing

awake and asleep they dream of soup of bread and bones

just like dogs and cats

in the evening I like to wander near the outposts of the city

along the frontier of our uncertain freedom.

I look at the swarms of soldiers below their lights

I listen to the noise of drums barbarian shrieks

truly it is inconceivable the City is still defending itself

the siege has lasted a long time the enemies must take turns

nothing unites them except the desire for our extermination

Goths the Tartars Swedes troops of the Emperor regiments of the Transfiguration

who can count them

the colours of their banners change like the forest on the horizon

from delicate bird's yellow in spring through green through red to winter's black

and so in the evening released from facts I can think

about distant ancient matters for example our

friends beyond the sea I know they sincerely sympathize

they send us flour lard sacks of comfort and good advice

they don’t even know their fathers betrayed us

our former allies at the time of the second Apocalypse

their sons are blameless they deserve our gratitude therefore we are grateful

they have not experienced a siege as long as eternity

those struck by misfortune are always alone

the defenders of the Dalai Lama the Kurds the Afghan mountaineers

now as I write these words the advocates of conciliation

have won the upper hand over the party of inflexibles

a normal hesitation of moods fate still hangs in the balance

cemeteries grow larger the number of defenders is smaller

yet the defence continues it will continue to the end

and if the City falls but a single man escapes

he will carry the City within himself on the roads of exile

he will be the City

we look in the face of hunger the face of fire face of death

worst of all - the face of betrayal

and only our dreams have not been humiliated



A Ballad That We Do Not Perish

Those who sailed at dawn
but will never return
left their trace on a wave—

a shell fell to the bottom of the sea
beautiful as lips turned to stone
those who walked on a sandy road
but could not reach the shuttered windows
though they already saw the roofs—

they have found shelter in a bell of air
but those who leave behind only
a room grown cold a few books
an empty inkwell white paper—

in truth they have not completely died
their whisper travels through thickets of wallpaper
their level head still lives in the ceiling
their paradise was made of air
of water lime and earth an angel of wind
will pulverize the body in its hand
they will be carried over the meadows of this world


Nazim Hikmet--Turkish

Nazim Hikmet
Hikmet is considered to be the father of modern Turkish poetry. Born in 1902, in Salonika in the Ottoman Empire while his father was serving in the Foreign Service, he was exposed to the arts at an early age. At the end of the First World War, Hikmet left Turkey for the former Soviet Union. There he attended university and didn’t return to his homeland until Turkey became independent in 1924. However, he soon found himself imprisoned for his political writing. He escaped to Moscow, and returned to Turkey in 1928, after a general amnesty was given to political prisoners. For over twenty years Hikmet worked as a scriptwriter and journalist and published nine books of poetry. He left Turkey for the last time in 1951 to live the remainder of his life in the Soviet Union. His poem about a seven year old girl who died in Hiroshima appears in this book.


Hiroshima Child

I come and stand at every door
But none can hear my silent tread
I knock and yet remain unseen
For I am dead for I am dead

I'm only seven though I died
In Hiroshima long ago
I'm seven now as I was then
When children die they do not grow

My hair was scorched by swirling flame
My eyes grew dim my eyes grew blind
Death came and turned my bones to dust
And that was scattered by the wind

I need no fruit I need no rice
I need no sweets nor even bread
I ask for nothing for myself
For I am dead for I am dead

All that I need is that for peace
You fight today you fight today
So that the children of this world
Can live and grow and laugh and play