Poet Paints Images with Words

By Lindsay Pindyck
Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York

On February 25, 1994, Charles Fishman, Distinguished Service Professor of English at SUNY Farmingdale College, came to Cold Spring Harbor High School to read some of his poems from his book of Holocaust poetry, The Death Mazurka, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

[ Photograph of Charles Fishman ]

Charles Fishman

The audience was fifty tenth grade students who had just finished reading Elie Wiesel's autobiography, Night. Fishman's poems pertained to the Holocaust, the horrors, the pain, the suffering, and the survival.

As Dr. Fishman read, he gave the history of each poem and what each was based on, so it was also a learning experience for the students. Some of them were familiar with Fishman's work and one student said, "Hearing the poems in his voice made them so much more real. When I read them, I didn't get the full meaning because I wasn't reading them the way they were supposed to be read. He is a very talented poet, and with every poem I became more aware of what the victims of the Holocaust went through."

Fishman captivated his audience for forty minutes, and when the school day came to a close, students and teachers remained to talk with him. He read poems dedicated to Elie Wiesel and others. Although poet Charles Fishman is not a survivor of the Holocaust himself, he seems to have captured the feeling and surroundings of that time period.

          for Rudy Vrba
          SIX million Jews did not die
          in the Holocaust: one was missing
          . . . escaped to hell or heaven,
          to nowhere and to nothing, wrapped
          in his prayer shawl, in prison
          stripes, in flames: escaped
          though gassed, mutilated, hanged;
          though frozen with starvation
          and exhaustion; though tortured
          beyond pain.
                          Six million did not
          die -- though robbed of all he had been,
          one was saved: the one of memory,
          of dream, of continuance, of revenge:
          the one destined to bring the Star
          to completion . . . one million lives
          for each burning prong.


          Charles Fishman, from THE DEATH MAZURKA
          (Texas Tech University Press, 1989.)

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