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The Long and the Short of Holocaust Verse

From: New Literary History
Volume 35, Number 3, Summer 2004
pp. 443-468 | 10.1353/nlh.2004.0040


The enormity of the Shoah often propelled poets in two diametrically opposed directions: on the one hand, toward ellipses, fragmentation, in short poems that exhibit their inadequacy by shutting down with a sort of premature closure; on the other, toward verbosity in long poems that register futility by reiterating an exhausted failure to achieve closure. Composed in what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari called "deterritorialized" languages, the laconic stalls of short poems and the repetitive stutters of very long poems illuminate linguistic consternation after Auschwitz. Through translations of Hungarian, Hebrew, German, Yiddish, and Spanish texts, as well as several works composed in English, this essay studies the semantic panic or philological consternation of a range of writers: from such first-generation authors as Miklós Radnóti, Dan Pagis, Paul Celan, and Yitzhak Katzenelson to such contemporaries as Marjorie Agosín, Anna Rabinowitz, Micheal O'Siadhail. Patently mediated in its defiance of sequentiality, verse in this trans-national tradition puts on display the blockage of testimony.

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