Holocaust Poetry

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 University of Salford
  • 2 Royal Holloway, University of London

‘Why no appraisals of [Holocaust] verse – particularly verse composed in the English language?’, asks Susan Gubar in Poetry after Auschwitz. The question appears particularly pertinent, if paradoxical, in the context of her list of canonical authors in the field of Holocaust literature, most of whom are either primarily poets (Dan Pagis, Paul Celan and Nelly Sachs) or prose writers as well as poets (Charlotte Delbo, Primo Levi and Tadeusz Borowski). One answer is that critics have rightly attended to the more sophisticated prose in the work of Delbo, Levi and Borowski. However, this has lead to the overshadowing of, for example, the significance of Levi’s ‘Shemà’ as metatestimony in relation to If This is a Man, Borowski’s ‘October Sky’ as a complex, dialectical anti-lyric, and Delbo’s shift into poetic form in Auschwitz and After when she senses that her prose is simply not up to the task of recounting certain traumatic experiences.


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