The history of millions in one cold breath, one empty train station, one terrifying silence. This issue of The Manhattan Review plants us in the aftermath of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and then attacks it mercilessly from the individual, not the statistical. Those who lived to deal with the silence, to inhabit neighborhoods forever changed, move on.
Featured poet Wladyslaw Szlengel calls these deeply personal poems “poem-documents.” His direct, honest writing slips in and out of verse and prose, but is always chilling and personal. “The Little Railway Station at Treblinka,” shows a man haunted by silence, in a world that has been permanently and senselessly shifted. “It is Time,” starts at a cosmic silence and narrows to the inside of a gas chamber made even more claustrophobic by the persistent second person:
They will drag You and cast You into a hideous pit,
They will tear away Your stars—the gold teeth in Your jaw—
Then burn You.
And You will be ash
Extremely personal and beautifully translated from the Polish by John and Bogdana Carpenter, this poem will pull you into its world.
D. Nurske’s poems are equally gripping, and his dense language provides sharp images. He shocks us, apt to kill his first-person speaker before the poem ends, eerily narrating beyond the speaker’s death. With frustratingly anonymous enemies, the merciless, masked killer hides behind his weapon. In “Nanglam,” a helicopter circles above a boy on a field:
I shouted: I’m a child! Though I tried to make my voice gruff and serious, it broke into a squeal I myself could hardly bear. The chopper retreated as if my words had beaten it away, then whirled back and shattered my body with bullets.
Penelope Shuttle drapes a heavy silence over a year’s worth of actions. Our speaker floats through a year, separated from the world around her by the quiet she imposes on it:
you’re both happy and sad,
nothing needs to be said,
choose any time of day or night
for not saying a word . . .
not even in the month of rainy days
when the rooms fold in closer,
there’s nothing they cannot bear . . . And you?
Published in many journals and the author of over nine poetry collections, Shuttle’s three poems are dark and domestic, her writing sparse and meditative.
Roughly three quarters through the volume, Hal Sirowitz offers comic relief, toying with conventional proverbs. Extremely minimalist, these poems’ brief couplets suck us in to one moment before it quickly dissolves.
The magazine’s final section situates us in the contemporary world (via Russian poetry) and is as dazzling as the rest of the issue, though less thematically cohesive. Reviews at the back are brief and informative but probably not why you’d buy this issue. This issue’s beacon is its dazzling poetry from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I urge anyone interested in this moment in history to read this issue of The Manhattan Review. It’s a haunting, engrossing read.