Poetry Friday Reading Themes War, Poetry, Refuge, Peace

[Poetry Friday] Found Poems from Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria and Naomi Shihab Nye’s “This Space Between Our Footsteps”

The Space Between Our Footsteps edited by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Myra here.

It’s Friday once again. I am glad to be joining the Poetry Friday community hosted this week by the Wandering Wildebeest herself, Irene Latham of Live Your Poem.

Our current reading theme is quite timely given recent world events.

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As I read more literature about war and conflict, I am consumed by an ever-increasing sense of despair, wondering whether it is part of human nature to fight and maim and destroy each other. Yet at the same time, there is also a lightness of being brought about by glimpses of unexpected acts of kindness, gestures of goodwill, moments of blinding joy allowing the human spirit to triumph against the deafening roar of guns and bombs.

I had a chance to visit the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria several years back. And amidst the smell of burnt ashes that seemed to be part of the very air I breathed while I was there, I chanced upon words on the wall: verses that attempt to make meaning of it all. And I wanted to share it with you Poetry Friday friends.

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Original Photo taken by me. Mauthausen Concentration Camp, Austria.
Original Photo taken by me. Mauthausen Concentration Camp, Austria.

And this one…

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This is a shot taken by my travel buddy, Professor Tuting Hernandez - as I was walking through the camp - dazed and overwhelmed by this seemingly-surreal experience.
This is a shot taken by my travel buddy, Professor Tuting Hernandez – as I was walking through the camp – dazed and overwhelmed by this seemingly-surreal experience.

 

The Space Between Our Footsteps edited by Naomi Shihab Nye

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I have not finished reading this book yet, but I wanted to share its beauty with you, dear friends. Naomi Shihab Nye shared in her beautiful Introduction what makes this book special:

With writers and artists from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, our book has tried to represent the wide, delicious feast. In no way does it pretend to be comprehensive – it’s neither the “whole garden” nor “the whole meal.”

While some who like to classify might describe Middle Eastern poetry as being heavily embellished or romanticized and Middle Eastern art as being primarily abstract, this book hopes to extend that notion. Subjects include an immense affection for childhood and children, a tender closeness to family, a longing for early, more innocent days, a passion for one’s homeland, grief over conditions of exile (a situation too common through the centuries to many Middle Easterners), a reverent regard for the natural world, and a love for one another and for daily life. Do any of these concerns sound alien to us?

More than anything, the poems in this collection show how interwoven our lives are with all the things that we value in common, and the precious intangibles that we hold close to our hearts. I selected a poem that I found to be particularly striking as it pierced my consciousness, and reminded me of the war that is ongoing right here, right now, and what the world is presently doing in response to it. As per usual, I took a photo of the page and edited it using an iPhone app. I hope it moves you as much as it did me.

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15 comments on “[Poetry Friday] Found Poems from Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria and Naomi Shihab Nye’s “This Space Between Our Footsteps”

  1. thelogonauts

    Powerful post and powerful poems today. (The one about the four-year-old just hits so hard.) I visited the Dachau concentration camp when I was in Germany a few years back – definitely an experience that stays with you. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. What a chilling, surreal experience it must have been to visit the concentration camp! Nye’s poem is powerful, poignant and heartbreaking. The innocence of a child juxtaposed against the harsh realities of senseless war and violence.

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  3. I find two things remarkable about this post: 1, the healing power of poetry–“words on the wall” and 2, the power that is wielded by a 4 year old who calls the man who claimed her eye “my soldier.” Incredible.

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  4. I’ve visited concentration camps in Germany, & the camp in San Francisco Bay where immigrants were detained. There was poetry there too. Yes, some places are not good for anyone recently. I just heard another child was killed today in the east. Thanks Myra-keep reminding us that was is bad!

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  5. Powerful post – and I am so glad that you shared Ashrawi’s poem, Myra…I do admire her so.

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  6. Irene Latham

    Myra, thank you for sharing this heartrending poetry that does offer some light in dark, dark times. I will be visiting Dachau next March as part of an Austria/Germany/Switzerland school trip and have been listening to a memoir by Ben Lesser called LIVING A LIFE THAT MATTERS. I will add Nye’s book to my list. xo

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  7. So much narrative packed into this poem, Myra. It really illustrates poetry’s power, as do the poems on the walls that you share.

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  8. Visiting concentration camps must be so impactful. I visited Anne Frank’s annex, and I was overcome. The most amazing thing is that in all that despair and suffering, beautiful art survives.

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  9. Myra, you have a special gift for making space for suffering voices. Your introduction so articulately reflects what I’ve been feeling watching the news lately, too. So much heartbreak and senseless violence. Across generations and miles. Yet there will always be seekers of light – thank you for always sharing the light, too. (The poem by Ashrawi moved me to tears, and your photographs from Austria are so stark and haunting.)
    Sending love from the other side of the world….

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  10. Our colleagues here have said it all so beautifully. Yes, I also was moved to tears at Ashrawi’s poem. Myra, you keep us grounded by letting the light of poetry shine through the darkness in the world.

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  11. Keri Collins Lewis

    You shared your heart and touched all of ours with your thoughtful and poignant post. Haunting words in each poem. Thank you, dear Myra!

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  12. Wow! Incredible post, Myra. Thank you for sharing an example of the amazing healing power of poetry.

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  13. Pingback: Poetry Friday: I have No Address – Hamza El Din | A Teaching Life

  14. Oh wow! This is crazy. Silent tomb is my poem that I wrote on the wall in that room. Great to see it out there and seen. Such a powerful place. I’ve been to Mauthausen twice now. It was after my first trip I wrote that poem and on my second trip was able to write it on the wall.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: [Poetry Friday] Poems of the Displaced and Found in Naomi Shihab Nye’s “The Flag Of Childhood: Poems from the Middle East” | Gathering Books

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