After Auschwitz

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The Arbeit macht frei ("work sets you free") gate to Auschwitz I, the main camp

the dictum that
to write poetry after Auschwitz
is barbaric
does not mean
we can no longer write poetry
rather than a verdict intended
to silence poets
it is a call to reject the
bibble-babble that ignores
the complicity of a culture of
homogeneity that excludes otherness
poetry must do more than inform
if it is not to be barbaric
it must defy the brutalization
the powerlessness
and the distortion of normal human relations
it must confront
the dangerous simplicities of
jingoistic nationalism
that led to the outpouring
of vitriol
demonizing a people
as a horror of corruption and disease
to be eliminated
from the face of the earth
poets cannot be
Walter Gieseking
playing Debussy at Musikhalle Hamburg
while the nearby cries of people
on the way to Dachau
were ignored
poets must risk being understood
as enemies of the people
while shining a blazing light
on the political and cultural blindness
that ever paves the road
to Auschwitz
not by taking the voice
of the victims of atrocity
but by giving them voice
preserving their ownership
narrowing our differences with them
and fighting the darkness
that is always descending

Published in the Poetry Super Highway 21st annual Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) issue. Featured image by xiquinhosilva. The image is of the Arbeit macht frei (“work sets you free”) gate to Auschwitz I, the main camp.