The Friday Poem on 28/04/23
We chose ‘Homage to Avram’ by Mark McDonnell to be our Friday Poem this week because it addresses one of the main preoccupation of poets and poetry – the business of how we write to keep our language and our communities alive. It is dedicated to Polish-born Yiddish poet Avram Stencl, who left Germany after persecution and torture by the Gestapo, settled in East London in 1944, and founded the weekly meeting group Friends of Yiddish, which involved political debate, literature, poetry and song, all in the Yiddish language. The poem presents us with an odd and slightly disturbing image – live blackbirds emerging from a cooked pie to sing out into the London sky – but we think it carries the hope, inherent in all good poetry, of building communication and understanding between people.
Homage to Avram
Avram Stencl (1897-1983)
Why this writing, writing?
Why, for example, is Avram Stencl sitting in a cafe in Whitechapel –
one tea, the rental for the table –
writing poetry in Yiddish on the back of a shopping list?
Would he not say,
I remember who I am, in order to be counted among the peoples?
All those memories baked in like four and twenty blackbirds.
And when the pie was opened the birds began to sing.
Avram, at the café table,
carefully sharpens words to cut through the roof of his pie
and reveal where the birds lie, on beds of sweet onions.
Sometimes he sees, through the translucency of gravy,
a bird open an eye.
Soon, every beak points into the blank sky above Whitechapel
and sings out, each in its own language and dialect;
their song rises, briefly, above the traffic and is gone.