In Exile, Translated by Ruth Ingram

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How can one write poetry when language burns the tongue? For German-Jewish poets living in exile during the Holocaust, the banishment must have been double — not only from homeland, but language. For a poet like Paul Celan, words become as intractable as life itself. But through her careful translations, Ruth Ingram brings into English three exiled poets working within the German language through grief, disillusionment and guilt toward a kind of reconciliation. That is, these are survivor-poems that also represent poetry-as-survival.

The opening poem by Hilde Domin, a so-called “assimilated Jew” whose privileged life was upended by flight and exile, speaks chillingly to survivor guilt. “Build Me a House” begins, “The wind comes…” and describes it lifting old papers “like doves” and displacing us “like jellyfish” on shore. It is a gentle but inevitable force, against which she builds a pretty house. Finally, “the wind passes / like a hunter, / whose hunt is not / meant for us.”
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