This essay explores a body of 340 poems created by political prisoners who were accused of and imprisoned for anti-state activity in late 1940s and 1950s Stalinist Poland. Evaluating prison poetry as a historical source, I understand the process of composing a poem as the result of a prisoner’s need to document the world around her/himself, as a psychological activity that contained diffi cult prison experiences, as a negotiation of emotional and often conflicting states, and as a social practice through which prison poets affected themselves and the people around them. Situated somewhere at the intersection of the personal and political, poetry became one of the most powerful sites of resistance. In addition to evaluating prison poetry as a historical source, this essay also explores gender differences and similarities in the body of 340 poems discussed here and in the social function of the prison poems.
The Poetry of Male and Female Political Prisoners in Postwar Poland
Seamus Heaney’s ‘The Ministry of Fear’, and Derek Walcott’s ‘Homecoming: Anse La Raye’, written within a few years of each other, bear some striking resemblances, which – together with their inevitable differences – illuminate the specific national situations from which their poetry emerges, and the differing ways each poet takes to negotiate or make the most of their particular histories. Heaney’s poem is the first in a sequence of six poems called ‘Singing School’, published in North in 1975; while Walcott’s poem first appeared in The Gulf and Other Poems in 1969 – both collections in which the pressures of local histories, and the demands of dramatic and immediate political events, are explicitly registered. In each case the poem is concerned with the difficulties caused, and the creative possibilities made available, by the distance between personal history and available poetic tradition – though this is a story told in a personal register, as autobiography, and told with varying degrees of ruefulness, sadness, and comedy. Both poems tell the story of the ‘growth of the poet’s mind’, and, indeed, Wordsworth is the explicit startingpoint for Heaney, whose poem systematically rewrites The Prelude, insofar as that can be done in a poem of such smaller compass. But Walcott also takes on one of the great poets and translates him into local terms – a project to be realised at much greater length some twenty years later with the writing of Omeros.
Aemilia Bassano Lanier was one of the first women in early modern England who claimed a professional poetic voice of her own by publishing her poem Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum in 1611. According to Lynette McGrath, her poetry could be regarded as an
The Complete Poems of William Empson edited by John Haffenden (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2000) ISBN 0713992875 £30.00
Norman Cameron: His Life, Work and Letters by Warren Hope (London: Greenwich Exchange, 2000) ISBN 187155105 6 £20.00
The Social Evolution of Alterman's “Don't You Give Them Guns”
Nathan Alterman's poem “Don't You Give Them Guns” echoed European post–World War I anti-war literature. Curiously, the poem turned into a key text in a ritual instituted by members of the elite Jewish underground fighting force, the Palmach, which was established during World War II. This article is an attempt to understand how a pacifist poem came to be used by Jewish-Israeli soldiers at the heart of the 1948 War of Independence. In terms of theory, the analysis dwells on the relations between text and social context, arguing that alternative social ideas conceal themselves in poetry and other literary forms. These texts can be likened to undercurrents that preserve hidden social concerns. To follow the changing role of such texts, the article considers the fate of “Don't You Give Them Guns” from its birth in 1934 to its later manifestations in the early twenty-first century.
Antony Rowland and Tadeusz Pióro
Tadeusz Borowski’s poetry is virtually unknown in Britain and America, despite the fact that the Polish writer was a poet long before he wrote his controversial stories about his experiences in Auschwitz–Birkenau and Dachau. These stories, a selection of which appear in Penguin’s This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, ensured his canonical status in twentieth-century European literature. Yet only three Borowski poems are readily available in English translations: ‘Night over Birkenau’, ‘The Sun of Auschwitz’ and ‘Farewell to Maria’ are printed in Hilda Schiff’s anthology Holocaust Poetry. A few more appear in the English translation of Adam Zych’s anthology The Auschwitz Poems,3 but this edition is currently out of print.
On Discovering Poems in Istanbul, Sarajevo, and Bratislava
This article discusses how poetry allowed a first-time traveler to three different cities to explore each place and his identity as a traveler. Focusing on Istanbul, Sarajevo, and Bratislava, the article describes the experience of using a poem the traveler finds in each city to serve as a guide to its spirit. By referring to issues related to anthropology, post-colonialism, politics, history, the social sciences, and cultural studies, this article discusses the transformation experienced by the traveler as a result of both a physical and inner journey.
Life as It Comes by Anthony Edkins (Bradford: Redbeck Press, 2002) ISBN 0946980969 £6.95
The Soldier on the Pier by Brian Waltham (Calstock: Peterloo Poets, 2002) ISBN 1871471990 £7.95
Craeft: Poems from the Anglo-Saxon by Graham Holderness (Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2002) ISBN 1899549676 £7.50
The Great Friend and Other Translated Poems by Peter Robinson (Tonbridge: Worple Press, 2002) ISBN 095394774 £8
The Early Poems of Elizabeth Bishop
Wallace Stevens, in The Necessary Angel, gave it as his opinion that the purpose of poetry is to help people live their lives. Those of us who have made a study of Elizabeth Bishop’s poems would agree, I think, that they have helped a great many people live their lives. Yet, as David Kalstone remarked, Elizabeth Bishop has always been difficult to ‘place’. She found self-placement, both geographical and psychological, so difficult herself that we find two questions buried in most of her work: ‘Who I am?’ and ‘Where do I belong?’. I would like to suggest in this essay that Bishop did finally decide who she was and where she belonged. Like her own Prodigal, she made up her mind reluctantly, both before and after she went to live in Brazil, to go home to Nova Scotia. She could not live there, of course, since Nova Scotia was the landscape of the childhood that nourished her imagination; nor was that childhood an easy one to return to. But she knew she belonged in Great Village once she began to help herself to live her life by writing about it.
In this article the author examines the way in which concepts of citizenship and rights have been transmitted not only by conquest, but also by the imitation of Greek and Roman models. Also, the article discusses the way in which early modern empires, modelling themselves on the classical Roman empire in particular, bring these two elements together. Extensive historiographical work on the reception of European thought in the New World has been produced on both sides of the Atlantic and some important contributions that deal with the impact of the New World encounters in European thought have recently been made. However, the author argues that little work has been done on classical modelling as a vehicle for the transmission of concepts. The long tradition of classical learning, revived in the European Renaissance, made Latin the lingua franca of Europe, and school curricula across Europe ensured that members of the Republic of Letters were exposed to the same texts. This, together with the serviceability of the Roman model as a manual for Empire, ensured the rapid transmission of classical republican and imperial ideas. The author takes England and the British Empire as a case study and provides a variety of examples of classical modelling.