On National Poetry Day

October 7, 2021

October 7th. Today is National Poetry Day, they tell me. I wrote a poem on that subject a long long time ago, and haven’t much more to say about it.
But then pretty well every day is Poetry Day here at Snakeskin headquarters, though some days are more poetic than others.
A good day was a Saturday last month when I was sniffing round Huddersfield’s open market as usual; Saturday is secondhand day, and there’s always at least one treasure to be found. As it happened, I had not come across much of interest that day, till I encountered a stall with a small pile of books. Mostly railways and military, as I recall, but there was also 33 Poems by Radnóti Miklós . It was a dual-language edition, published in Budapest, the Hungarian facing the English. I knew the name, of course (though slightly anglicised as Miklós Radnóti).
For years, Thomas Land sent translations to Snakeskin of poems from the Hungarian Holocaust, and Radnóti was one of the most treasured poets in his canon.
The book was cheap, and I bought it without looking far into it. It was only when I got home that I saw that the translator was Thomas Ország-Land – our Tom, by his more Hungarian name.
The book had been published in 1992, three years before Snakeskin was even born. Many of the translations appeared again in Thomas’s 2009 Snakeskin e-chapbook, Deathmarch – where there is indeed an acknowledgement to this little volume, a reference I had quite forgotten.
It reminds me of how much I miss Thomas, and his monthly submissions of versions, sometimes lyrical, often horrific, of translations recalling the poets of Jewish Hungary (many of whom had been killed during the war years).
Snakeskin is happy to frequently publish poems that are light, or humorous, or dealing with ephemeral issues. We like to think we cover the whole range of poetry (apart from the pretentious). But the poems Thomas sent us, reminders of the greatest crime of the twentieth century, were there each month to remind us of the worst facts of life, and of the role of the poet in speaking up in times of horror.
I miss him indeed.

Here is the epilogue he wrote for his e-chapbook of Radnóti translations:

An Epilogue, by the Translator

Unmarked the moment when our forebears lost
our innocence to automated killing.
The prisoners’ feet were kissed by winter frost,
their hunger ached. Some gave up hope, unwilling
to stumble on with pride and will run out.
They deemed a small delay a meagre prize,
fell gently and remained there calm and solemn,
unless one were to shout at them to rise,
awaiting death behind the marching column.
Some people had the stubborn strength to shout.
They’ve left to us the throb of phantoms’ feet
and monuments esteemed by every nation,
a world of wealthy customers to eat
the feast of plenty set by automation —
and now and then a fearful, halting doubt
when warplanes scrape across the sky a scar
above our loved ones’ heads or when the telly
brings for our entertainment from afar
a child with hunger bloated in the belly
and we have lost the voice or will to shout.


One Response to “On National Poetry Day”

  1. That is one powerful epilogue!

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