Through My Father’s Eyes, Collected Poems by Sheila Jacob / Review, Interview, Poems

” . . . Two months later
you were hurried to the hospital
and died within the week.

“I stuffed your letters in a drawer
and found your fountain pen,
the ink inside still wet.”

excerpt from Letters From Home in Though My Father’s Eyes



I am often hesitant to review and recommend self-published books. Sometimes it seems that however talented and well-intentioned the poet, their collection needed another eye, an editor. We all need one frankly. Having said that, I am pleased with Sheila Jacob’s book as I knew I would be. Sheila did invite feedback from an editor and other poets before finalizing this volume, which I have now read twice and with great pleasure. Such is our humanity and the power of poetry that we can touch hearts across 3,500 miles and the wide Atantic.

Sheila, whose father died when she was thirteen, and I couldn’t be closer in terms of time (I’m a bit older than she is), roots (working class), and parents born on the cusp of or not long after WW I. Our parents were the hard-worked people of the global Great Depression and WW II. They were people who who kept their pain private, lived in gray cities, walked hard streets to work in factories and knew how to squeeze a penny. These elements are one reason why Sheila’s poems spoke to me, but I also know that her poems – this collection – will speak to anyone who values fine poetry as well as their own roots and their own loves and who have had to come to terms with loss and grief. Who among us has not? This small volume is a victory over sorrow and confusion and it brings to life one father and his daughter in all their loveable complex humanity. Recommended. / J.D.

The Doctors said I was a goner. You know the rest,
duck, an Irish nurse slipped a Lourdes medal
under my pillow and hours later I woke up, found
I could breathe on my own and talk.

You used to love the story.

Ah, yes, I see, perhaps I did make a meal
of it, ignored how I felt living through
the Blitz and coming home on leave
to streets of rubble.

I was loaded with memories
you were too innocent
to share.

excerpt from War Record in Through My Father’s Eyes


The poems and excerpts from poems in Through My Father’s Eyes are published here today with Sheila’s permission.


INTERVIEW

JAMIE: Not to diminish the extraordinary quality of your work and how meaningful it will be to others who read it, but writing these poems must have been cathartic for you. Did you come away from the writing feeling healed?

SHEILA: Yes, I did feel healed. Putting words on paper and clarifying my thoughts helped me make sense of my dad’s death, my reaction to it and my overall relationship with him. It enabled me to continue the grieving process which didn’t really begin until I was an adult and had left home. My parents, aunts and uncles, were from the post-war stiff-upper-lip generation who refused to dwell on grief. After Dad’s funeral they carried on as before with very little show of outward emotion and I was encouraged to do the same. My mum had always been a reserved person; she retreated into herself and never spoke to me about Dad even in the most general terms. I was angry and bewildered at the time though now I understand that it was the only way she could cope. 

I suspect there are poems waiting to be written about my mum’s experience: written, hopefully, with the generosity of spirit I didn’t have as a teenager and young adult. And I’m still writing “Dad” poems. The past never stays still.

I also found it necessary- and therapeutic – to explore my dad’s boyhood, which seems to have been a happy one despite financial deprivations, his love of football, and his time in the army during WW II. This gave me a fresh sense of belonging to and being rooted in my Birmingham past.

JAMIE: I seem to remember that you mentioned having stopped writing poetry for years and then started again.  What triggered your reengagement with poetry?

SHEILA: This began in 2013 during an episode of depression. I consulted a clinical psychologist, a most remarkable man with whom I am still in touch. He’d encountered the work of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath in his professional capacity. When he discovered I used to read and write poetry, he strongly encouraged me to start again. 

I remember how I‘d been seeing him for a few weeks and he suddenly said “Write a poem on the sessions so far.”

I cobbled something together for our next appointment and also dusted off my poetry library, mostly collections by Gillian Clarke, R.S.Thomas and T.S. Eliot.  I continued writing, for his eyes only at first. This gradually expanded. I read a lot about poetry as therapy and wrote a small piece about my own experience for Rachel Kelly’s Blog. Rachel is the author of Black Rainbow, an account of her long struggle against depression and the positive part reading poetry played in her recovery.

I found a website called Creative Writing Ink and took a beginner’s poetry course with a perceptive and experienced tutor, an Irish poet, Eileen Casey. Her feedback was invaluable. I began subscribing to various poetry magazines and, eventually, submitting.  

JAMIE:  In what ways has involvement with online poetry groups been productive for you?

SHEILA: They’ve helped greatly with the quality of my poems. I tend not to write one word when ten will do. I’ve learned/am learning to be more economical and precise with my use of words. My poems are still on the long side but I write in a narrative style that I think lends itself to the longer poem. I’m not a great lover of form but I’ve written sestinas, non-rhyming sonnets, tankas, cinquains and, of course, haiku which really concentrate the mind. I pay more attention to line breaks, line lengths and stanza lengths. I never used to edit my poems let alone re-edit them. Now, I often leave troublesome ones to cook for months before I return to them. 

It’s been enriching to discover the work of a wide variety of poets, living and deceased, and to explore different subject matter. I’ve done courses in ekphrastic poetry, poems of trauma, poems of protest, and poems of place. The most recent course I did was with Jonathan Edwards’ for The Poetry School where he asked us to “step into someone else’s shoes” and write from the point of view of an animal, a building, and an inanimate object, amongst others. I found this very enjoyable and liberating. 

The second benefit of poetry groups is the undoubtedly the fellowship. I’ve received valuable, constructive feedback, I’ve met poets from all over the globe, read styles of poetry I wouldn’t otherwise have engaged with and formed lasting, supportive friendships.

JAMIE: You chose to self-publish, which is something a lot of readers are contemplating.  Why did you do so and what was the experience like?

SHEILA: I would have preferred to publish my chapbook with an established poetry press but the ones I submitted to didn’t like my work well enough to take it on. I have no hard feelings about this. Maybe I should have tried more publishers and waited longer for submission openings but I’m almost sixty nine and didn’t feel that time was on my side.

There was also an emotional element involved. I wanted closure from this particular set of poems by sending them out into the world sooner rather than later. I’d worked hard on them over the years and felt there was a niche for them somewhere in the poetry world. 

I did a mentoring course with Wendy Pratt, a lovely lady and a very fine poet. I sent her a proposed collection to critique and she immediately suggested that I should focus solely on the poems about my Dad. Her encouragement gave me the confidence to self-publish. I also had a lot of support from a Facebook friend Jenni and a local poet friend David Subacchi who has self-published quite a few books and encouraged me to “just do it” without worrying that they weren’t “proper” poems or that it wasn’t a “proper” book.

Once I felt that the poems were as good as I could make them the actual publishing was very straightforward. I contacted a reputable local publisher, David Bentley, whose ideas on layout were useful. He suggested using a thicker, creamy paper to correspond with the memoir theme of the poems.

This wasn’t a cheap process but I had money saved for it and wanted to be in control of the proceedings on the ground rather than through a computer. If I self-publish again I may well take a different approach.


To purchase this little gem of a volume, contact Sheila directly at she1jac@yahoo.com


POEMS

 The Power of Flight    

 After you died                                 

 the echo of your cough                                          

 roamed the house.

 

When a dark shape 

filled your bedroom’s

open window

 

I ran to tell Mum, 

who ran next door,

both of us unnerved

 

by the bird’s frantic

tumble of feathers

and whirr of wings.

 

It’s just a young one

our neighbour laughed

and calmed it with a lift

 

of her hands,

steered it towards                           

the power of flight,

 

the possibility of song.

.

A Boy Called Anthony

Anthony would serve at Mass, ring the consecration bell.

Anthony would play 5-a-side football, win gold trophies.

Anthony would pass his 11-plus, go to St. Philip’s School.

 

When the midwife cried “It’s a girl” Dad searched

for new names, called me after his favourite sister, he sang

pat-a-cake and bake it in the oven for Sheila and me.

 

I couldn’t be an altar boy but knew the Latin responses,

couldn’t play football but watched with Dad at Villa Park,

passed my 11-plus, went to St. Paul’s where the nuns taught.

 

When end-of-term results grew worse, Dad grew angry.

I scowled, sulked- I’d tried my best, just didn’t like Maths.

You should have been a boy called Anthony, Dad snapped.

 

Anthony would have excelled in Maths, Physics and Science.

Anthony wouldn’t have answered back, chewed his nails,

muttered bloody hell, been sent to his room in disgrace.

 

Anthony, I realised then, would never fail or win, Anthony

couldn’t drink dandelion-and-burdock through a straw,

Anthony couldn’t laugh, skip, scrage his knee and bleed.

 

Anthony would never run to Dad, blurt out I’m very sorry,

I promise not to be rude again. He couldn’t hug Dad, weep

against Dad’s shoulder, smell the Brylcreem in Dad’s hair.

 

Don’t forget it’s nearly Father’s Day                                                 

 

As if I could forget how it fell

two days after they lowered

his coffin into the earth

 

though fifty-odd years ago

I was spared online adverts 

for Ben Sherman socks 

and flagons of Dior Savauge.

 

As I’d have offered such gifts

to a man whose socks 

were hand-knitted, darned

at the heel with love;

 

whose favourite cologne

was pure Welsh water 

splashed from the cold tap.

 

As if I wouldn’t make each day

a day to remember had he lived

He’d be a frail centenarian

 

I’d cosset with chunky scarves

and camphor oil; open the old

draughts board knowing 

he’d outplay me every time.

            

– Sheila Jacob


SHEILA JACOB was born and raised in Birmingham, England and lives with her husband in Wrexham, on the Welsh border. Her poetry has been published in several U.K. magazines and webzines. She recently self-published her short collection of poems that form a memoir to her father who died in 1965. Sheila finds her 1950s childhood and family background a source of inspiration for many of her poems. You can connect with Sheila by email: she1jac@yahoo.com


ABOUT

Recent in digital publications: 
* Four poemsI Am Not a Silent Poet
* Remembering Mom, HerStry
* From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems)(July 2019)
Upcoming in digital publications:
* Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review (July 2019)
* The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice (August 2019)

A busy though bed-bound poet, writer, former columnist and the former associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Levure littéraireRamingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander CoveI Am Not a Silent Poet, Meta/ Phor(e) /Play, Woven Tale PressThe Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, a curated info hub for poets and writers. I founded The Bardo Group/Beguines, a virtual literary community and publisher of The BeZine of which I am the founding and managing editor. I’ve been featured on The MethoBlog, on the Plumb Tree’s Wednesday Poet’s Corner, and several times as Second Light Live featured poet.

Email me at thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, reprint rights, or comissions.


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton



Michael Dickel’s “Nothing Remembers”

I’ve read Michael’s collection and will post a review, interview, and some sample poems shortly, meanwhile NOW IS THE TIME TO PRE-ORDER Michael Dickel’s title, Nothing Remembers.
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Advanced praise: 
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“He raises the question of whether the past can be preserved in memory, or whether memory is most effective in the face of loss. Either way, what does the past leave us, who are we with or without the past, and if poetry can occasionally fill gaps in our present, what if anything can it give us of our past? Is poetry anything at all — or is it nothing at all, and is the nothing of poetry the best memorialization? Dickel’s sensory, sensual, musical lyric roves across wet and dry landscapes, food and drink, family and friends, darkness and light, sleep and wakefulness, dreams and reality. His words hover between his homes in the Mideast and the American Midwest, conveying the fragility of present and past, enacting a memory at high risk of loss, maintaining faith against staggering odds. Nothing Remembers is a dream of peace, the peace that may come if and when persons and peoples live in a present comfortable with close and distant memory.
–Hassan Melechy, author of Kerouac: Language, Poetics, and Territory (Bloomsbury) and A Modest Apocalypse (Eyewear)
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Michael Dickel combines powerful imagery and poetic beauty with a reality beneath life’s skin, that will gently shake the reader into an awareness, refreshing and engaging. He will take you through his pages to a ‘resting state’ where possibilities in your mind will feel endless.
–Silva Merjanian, author of Life and Legends
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Between knowing and dreaming, shattered screams, pulses, shadows and longing, Michael Dickel’s arresting fourth collection, Nothing Remembers, navigates an erotics of re-membrance renegotiating a Proustian ethos of things resonant, prescient, and the ghostly revenance of hope.
–Adeena Karasick, author of Salomé: Woman of Valor
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“I know so many wildly talented writers. It is one of the great privileges in my life. Michael Dickel is one of them: he uses language like layers of color in a complex painting — you can access experiences that you otherwise wouldn’t have. I’ve just preordered his upcoming collection, Nothing Remembers, from Finishing Line Press; poetry lovers, this is worth having.”
–Ina Roy-Faderman, author of 56 Days of August: an anthology of postcard poems

ABOUT

Recent in digital publications: 
* Four poemsI Am Not a Silent Poet
* Remembering Mom, HerStry
* Three poems, Levure littéraire
Upcoming in digital publications:
Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review

A homebound writer, poet, and former columnist and associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, I Am Not a Silent Poet, The Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, an info hub for poets and writers and am the founding/managing editor of The BeZine.


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton


“At the End of War”, DeWitt Clinton / Review, Interview, Poems

“Prayer is said Standing
A Barechu, a call to Worship
We have not bothered, we are weak
We are too weak to even Speak
Every day is our Yom Kippur”
Reading the Tao at Auschwitz, VII, DeWitt Clinton, At the End of War (Kelsay Books, 2018)



DeWitt Clinton’s At the End of War moves with a graceful precision weaving Old Testament  stories with contemporary life, visits to the opera or cafe. Here and there are notes of humor as in On Leaving Socrates with His Jailer and hints of middle-America folksy, as in On the Way to Church Camp, Mother Meets the Devil. He speaks in many voices, blending the perspectives of Judaism and the Tao, slowly moving into the unspeakable tragedy of World War II and the Jewish Holocaust. This is the main event, if you will, of the collection, the obscenity of it layered with sacred ritual and text, an unflinching attempt to come to terms, to find identity, to rise above, to move past. The collection derives its name from the closing poem, which is after Wislawa Szymorska’s The End and the Beginning. 

Wislawa Szymorska begins her poem with:
“After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.”

DeWitt Clinton closes his collection with:
“Brooms. everybody, find all the brooms.
Can anyone send a letter? We need to let
someone know this has happened.

“Tomorrow we can start burning our families.
Surely someone will see the smoke.
Surely someone will come.”

We are in tears as we close the book. We are at once bathed in despair and hope. How many brooms will we need to clean up after all the wars and genocides? Do we finally grasp the futility of war? Will there ever be an end to the genocides of which twenty-four are happening as we “speak”? / J.D.

The excerpts from At the End of War are published here with permission. This book is recommended. / The quotation from The End and the Beginning is from Miracle Fair by Wislawa Szymborsk, translated by Joanna Trzeciack (W.W. Norton and Company Inc., 2001), also recommended.


ON LEAVING SOCRATES ALONE WITH HIS JAILER

(for my students of The Symposium, The Apology,

 Crito and Phaedo)

What started out as a sex wine party turned into a major

Mind concussion for my students, but still, we waded

Through the prose, hopeful they’d find out why

He insisted on so many questions, so many questions,

So many disillusioned Athenians. Yet toward the end,  

We could only face the charges, something about impiety

And influencing the youth, both trumped up, of course,

Mostly as a ruse to run him out of town, if he would go.  

But we knew he would not go.  We voted to acquit,

Even invoking Johnny Cochran’s “if it doesn’t fit,”

But sadly they were only seven at the time, more up

On Paris’s short sojourn than old football stars facing

Bogus trials.  Late in the day, we even considered assisting

Our friend out into the dark, but as you must know,

He trusted in the Laws even if the Laws never assumed

It would go this far.  We talked about “Prison Break,”

But few even had time to watch that, so busy chewing

The dense prose of friend/reporter Plato late on the scene.  

Most of us were quite done in by all the “soul talk”

Of those last pages, and then, we had to leave, some students

Actually having lost their speech, some needing crutches,

Some on life support, leaving our friend wandering

Through the underground calling out for Homer or Orpheus

Or anyone who wouldn’t mind sitting down for a very long

Conversation about nearly everything, since time is now

Beyond even Infinity.  That’s when I left, too, our poor

Cave-like classroom a faux jail cell, wondering if any of us

Could have comforted our gadfly, our inquirer, who is

Just now lifting his cup, resigned, cheery even. Au revoir,

Old friend, let’s hope your students do well on their final.

– excerpt from At the End of War  

INTERVIEW

JAMIE: I think it takes enormous courage to visit Holocaust sites – even to visit the museum in Los Angeles – and then to relive the experience through your writing. Would you speak of that?

DeWITT: One of the more provocative statements about art and The Holocaust is Theodor Adorno’s comment, “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”  This remark can be taken several ways, including any poetry about anything after Auschwitz, or as I take it, poetry written about Auschwitz after Auschwitz is barbaric.  And why is that?  Perhaps because for all who died, and the few who survived at Auschwitz, and at all the other work and death camps, there was nothing “artistic” about it.  

Ralph Fiennes, playing the character of Michael Berg, in the film, “The Reader,” asks a child survivor of Auschwitz, “Did you learn anything?”  The now aging daughter, played by Lena Olin, replies, “People ask all the time what I learned in the camps. But the camps weren’t therapy. What do you think these places were? Universities? We didn’t go there to learn.” She continues by saying, “Nothing comes out of the camps. Nothing.”  

The death camps were neither schools, nor artistic experiences, but it is through art that we can at least remember some of what happened, even if it did not happen to the artist.  I’ve been writing about historical events for a number of decades now, and while the art is anachronistic, I think it is also an extension of that history as well.  I recall writing about the Spanish conquistador wars against the native Maya, Aztec and Incan tribes, (The Conquistador Dog Texts, and The Coyot. Inca Texts, New Rivers Press, o.o.p.) and the poetry is certainly not “accurate,” as a historian might write, but it is an artistic rendering of the horrible inflictions the native tribes experienced.  The same may be true for writing about the Holocaust. 

I’ve read historical renderings of the Holocaust, and read poetry and plays and memoirs about the Holocaust as well, and the latter are far more interesting to me as an artist. While studying the Tao de Ching with my undergraduate students, I began to consider a new path that I might take in trying to remember my experience of visiting Auschwitz I and II camps several years ago.  The result is an unusual fusion, and quite anachronistic, but I hope readers will ponder the insights of Lao Tzu as they read “Taoist like” poems of what the prisoners might have thought about as they were starving to death, or what they might have wondered as tens of thousands were marched to the gas chambers and crematoriums.  

I have read a number of artistic renderings of Holocaust experiences, and I hope anyone who reads “Reading the Tao at Auschwitz” will be open to considering a new lens to consider the horrors experienced by all who died, or survived.  I can also appreciate how survivors, or children, or grandchildren of survivors, might be appalled by such artistic renderings of mine.  It’s a long and difficult to absorb poem, but I hope it is also a valuable contribution to Holocaust literature.  

JAMIE: As a writer, what drew you to poetry instead of other literary options?

DeWITT: I’ve always imagined writing screen plays, novels, stage plays, short stories, novellas, and an array of other genres of imaginative writing, but I’ve been drawn to poetry ever since a college professor asked me to rewrite a prose piece to poetry.  Then I enrolled in a poetry writing workshop with the same professor my last semester, and though I can’t or don’t want to remember what I wrote in that class, the experience was quite wonderful, especially the instructor’s wife’s cookies.  I’ve been drawn to poetry workshops, classes, conferences, and retreats for quite some time now, and do I know why I’m still drawn to poetry?  No I don’t, even though I am still poking around for images and lines.  It’s just a huge joy to be able to still compose poetry, no matter what evolves from a writing session.  

JAMIE: As a beginning writer, what poetry most inspired you and why? 

DeWITT: I took a copy of Coney Island of the Mind with me to Vietnam in late 1969 and read it over and over, but not when we were being shelled or fired upon.  I may have taken other poetry collections, perhaps The Wasteland, but I’m not sure about what I read.  But I did enroll (by correspondence) in an extension class from the University of Kansas at Lawrence. The course was a fairly traditional reading class of modern poetry, and though I enjoyed it, I soon asked the professor if I could send him some scraps of poetry I’d been writing on a 105 howitzer firebase in Vietnam which would later become “The Spirit of the Bayonet Fighter,” published in Harper & Row’s Winning Hearts and Minds.

By the end of my tour, I was hoping to enroll in grad school at Wichita State University which offered a M.A. in English & Creative Writing, and later an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing at Bowling Green State University (Ohio).   By then, and then was a long time ago, I was interested in what would later become a career of teaching English and creative writing, and hopefully, writing more poetry, and finding a few kind hearted editors.  The teaching career is over, but I still look forward to writing new poems, and I’m still sending out a few now and then.

JAMIE: What’s next on the agenda for you?

It occurred to me only a few days ago that I may have a third collection of poems (a second collection is in production with Michael Dickel, Gary Lundy, and Is a Rose Press, an adaptation of Kenneth Rexroth’s 100 Poems from the Chinese) as I’ve been writing much more since I retired from teaching a few years ago.  I’m not quite sure it’s ready for submission as a book, but I’d like to keep working on it.  One press has a deadline in late August, and I’m hoping to aim for that as a possible submission.  Poetry isn’t everything in my life, as I also appreciate the benefits of Iyengar Yoga, and training for races and triathlons.  The next big one is in Berlin, one of the 6 world major marathons.  I certainly did not qualify to be in the race because of my lightning speed, but instead I earned a “lottery” ticket, which was a random selection of thousands of hopeful participants.  Sightseeing a few days after, including a short trip to the Wannsee chateau where during a luncheon in early 1942, high ranking Nazi Party and military officers designed what was known as “The Final Solution.”  


“From this place
Ashes rising from this place
Ashes circling as far as one could see
Ashes circling over All
Over Everyone over Everything
Circling a constant circling
A rink forever circling
a constant ringing s’hma Israel”
Reading the Tao at Auschwitz, XVIII, excerpt from At the End of War  


Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ecḥad
Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One


Photo by Meredith W. Watts, “For Good” Photography​

DeWITT CLINTON  is the author of three books of poetry:  The Conquistador Dog Texts and The Coyot. Inca Texts (New Rivers Press), At the End of the War (Kelsay Books, 2018), and a fourth collection is coming out in late 2019 or 2020:  On a Lake by a Moon: Fishing with the Chinese Masters, (Is A Rose Press).  His poems and essays have appeared in The Journal of Progressive Judaism (with co-author Rabbi David Lipper), Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, Cultural Studies< => Critical Methodologies, Storytelling Sociology: Narrative as Social Inquiry, and Divine Inspiration: The Life of Jesus in World Poetry (Oxford U Press).

A few recent publications include The Last Call: The Anthology of Beer, Wine & Spirits Poetry, Santa Fe Literary Review, Verse-Virtual, New Verse News, Ekphrastic Review, Diaphanous Press, Meta/Phor(e)Play, The Arabesques Review, and The New Reader Review.  He is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater, and lives with his wife, Jacqueline, in Shorewood, a small village one street north of Milwaukee.  

DeWitt’s Amazon Page U.S. is HERE.
DeWitt’s Amazon Page U.K. is HERE.


ABOUT

Recent in digital publications: 
* Four poems in “I Am Not a Silent Poet”
* Remembering Mom in HerStry
* Three poems in Levure littéraire
Upcoming in digital publications:
“Over His Morning Coffee,” Front Porch Review

A homebound writer, poet, and former columnist and associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, I Am Not a Silent Poet, The Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, an info hub for poets and writers and am the founding/managing editor of The BeZine.


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton



 

ON THE 101st ANNIVERSARY OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE: Rape of Arevik by Silva Merjanian

 Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish soldiers. Kharpert, Armenia, Ottoman Empire - April, 1915. *From the collection of Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives. Photographed by an anonymous German traveler.


Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish soldiers. Kharpert, Armenia, Ottoman Empire – April, 1915. From the collection of Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives. Photographed by an anonymous German traveler.

There were moonlit nights and many moonless nights
sober and drunken in one grain of sand
in billions of grains there were filthy hands
mud and fingernails between sunburned thighs
this is not my skin with nerves inside out
not my breast squeezed into faint whimpers
like dying swallows caught in a dry mouth

soon I’ll be a memory in last verse of songs
someone meant to write on a summer night
flesh to sand and sand to a story to tell
they’ll mention tattoos* and how I was a slave
look look how many stars in one grain of sand
in a billion grains in a billion tears
screams tangled like strings through my broken ribs

you did not know me then
before much before they tore off my clothes
and the desert night shivered with their rage
you did not see how my hair flowed like silk
on soft pillows where teenage dreams were weaved
you did not know me dressed with flowers in my hair
and my fathers arm around my adolescent frame
you did not see the stars from our wide windows
above the vineyard and my feet bare on the fertile soil
in our apricot tree’s cool summer shade

I’m in the evening news – in a pile of bones
look at the skull at the very left
see the sparrow lodged between those clenched jaws
I’m in the evening news a hundred years late
in the grains of sand shifting restless with shame
in the billion stars in your sky tonight
in my mother’s voice singing kenatzir pallas*
in the moonlit nights and the moonless nights
on a dagger’s blade in the Deir ez-Zor sand

– Silva Merjanian

24 April 2016 is the 101th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, when thousands of women were dragged in the desert, raped and tortured before killed.

  • the reference to tattoos … they used to tattoo the women according to who owned them.
  • Kenatzir pallas is a lullaby very popular with Armenians and means “go to sleep my child”

“Silva’s poetry rewards the reader with the gift of exquisite lacework, adorned with choice words and skillfully wrought poetic imagery, which allow you to get a glimpse of both the intoxicating sensuality of survival and the scalpel scars on the tender skin of life. Many-layered, it excels alike in depicting the sphere of personal experience and of traumatic social issues.” – Dr. Aprilia Zank. Lecturer for Creative Writing and Translation Theory Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, Germany in a review of Silva’s collection Rumor. Three poems rom this collection are Pushcart nominees. The net profits including the publisher’s go to The Armenian-Syrian Relief Fund. About $5,000 dollars have been raised to date.

© 2016, poem and book cover design, Silva Merjanian, All rights reserved; featured here with the permission of the poet; Silva’s website is HERE.; the header photograph is a public domian photograph courtesy of Project Save.