Ilona Martonfi, author of The Snow Kimono and Salt Bride writes her Lockdown Diary during the quarantine of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Making Tartys in Applis in the time of the Black Death plague, remembering her mother baking the Hungarian almás rétes, the scent of brown sugar and cinnamon wafting through her war refugee kitchen. She will tell you about publishing her story “Murmuration”, her daughter’s sarcoidosis, archiving the pandemic. Share her Ekphrastic poetry and haiku. Her lockdown days spent in final editing her forthcoming poetry collection The Tempest with Inanna Publications in 2021, her advocacy and activism, taking a stand. Her friends and family. Her research and her computer.
So how does she choose stance and share of herself? How does she feel about social distancing, about what’s important to her? What does history teach us about baking in a pandemic? Reading the news a little more soberly.
Tuesday April 22, 1348
“At this period of the Black Death, a bubonic plague pandemic, in 1348 the grass grew several inches high in the High St and in Broad St; it raged at first chiefly in the centre of the city of London.”
–—Geoffrey the Baker, Chronicon Angliae
Wednesday May 22, 1381
In the years after the terrible mortality of the Black Death…
Recipe For to Make Tartys in Applis
Tak gode Applys and gode Spycis and Figys and reyfons and Perys and wan they are wel ybrayed colourd with Safron wel and do yt in a cofyn and do yt forth to bake wel.
(File: Apple pie.jpg / From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository)
Friday January 10, 2020
“Preparing our students for the climate future. Students from across Montreal participate in a climate march January 10 2020.”
–—John Kenney / Montreal Gazette
Last December, winter solstice, wind-chill minus 33, I was invited to give an interview about my latest poetry book, Salt Bride, published fall 2019 with Inanna Publications, by Montreal writer Matthew Rettino to appear with Cult MTL
At the same time, I would also like to extend my thanks to Inanna for posting my book description on the Inanna website.
“The poems in this collection are sculpted like carnallite crystals and come together as elegiac meditations, drawing on history, and on mythology. Beauty and pathos are wound in a tangle of exile, and find a home. Offering free verse, prose poems, haibun and haiku. Ilona Martonfi uses her poetry to build on her activism as a tool for achieving goals, taking a stand.”
Montreal poet tells refugee stories from a child’s perspective. We spoke to Ilona Martonfi about her new collection, Salt Bride.
—Cult MTL interview by Mattew Rettino
The biggest research that I found was how [the Nazis] sent [the Jewish population] to Auschwitz. Those are my best poems, actually. They have one artist in Budapest who created [a memorial out of] iron shoes because they had to take off their shoes when they shot them into the river. And it’s there, not far from where I lived, across from the Danube. [It’s] one of the most powerful things I’ve seen. I wrote several poems about that (such as “Ráhel’s Mother”
…rows of barbed wire
bear a memorial
halfway between Széchenyi István Square
the Neo-Gothic Parliament
stand in remembrance
of the people
high-heeled black shoes
The poetry events — I started them 20 years ago and it’s not easy to stop. [Laughs] I read my poetry at all my literary events. Emotions have to be harnessed right from the first poem. I [occasionally] read about the ghetto because of what’s happening in politics now in the States. It’s coming back, as if they hadn’t learned anything. So that’s why these poems are relevant.
That’s my message, actually: Learn from the past and don’t repeat it.
Saturday March 14, 2020
“COVID-19 updates March 14: First Quebec child tests positive as province tells those over 70 to stay home.”
—Andy Riga / Montreal Gazette
“The essence of haiku is a cutting word between them, a kind of verbal punctuation mark. Traditional haiku consist of 17 syllables in three phrases of 5, 7 and 5. A kigo seasonal reference.”
My haiku I posted on Facebook social media this Saturday:
seawater placed in
clam shell you’ve offered
to the ocean
(File: Clam on beach – panoramio.jpg / Wikimedia)
Friday March 20, 2020
“Coronavirus March 20: Quebec cases climb to 139 as Côte-St-Luc pleads for quarantine. People observe ‘social distancing’ as they line-up at an N.D.G. area bakery on Monkland Avenue.”
—John Kenney / Montreal Gazette
I edit and order a last time, my forthcoming collection The Tempest, Inanna Publications, 2021. Happy with my short book description I had written for the Inanna Author Questionnaire.
“Like the mythological figure she describes as “ensnared in long tentacles of hair, skeletal, toothless, chiseled in white marble”, Martonfi has hewn her own spare lines to recast her book’s obsession with the politics, violences, and musics of the oral.”
The manuscript I had ordered into five sections. Chosen a Paul Klee’s abstract watercolour and chalk, Hermitage, for the book cover.
I read the book aloud. Get to hear how my work sounds. This can be a great editing tool. I can hear the clunkers that need work. The word purple I used five times.
Finally, I email my edited manuscript to Inanna Publications editor-in-chief Luciana Ricciutelli.
Friday April 10, 2020
“Coronavirus: Premier Legault says schools might reopen earlier than May 4.”
-—Jason Magder / Montreal Gazette
Today I submitted one Ekphrastic prose poem to Montreal Serai online literary magazine on the theme: Mental health in anxious times.
“Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance Contemplates the Plague”
… I stand here about to weigh unborn souls, the gold, the pearls. Catharina Bolnes, wife of Jan Vermeer van Delft… I bury four flaxen-haired children, in the family crypt, in the Oude Kerk.
Tuesday April 21, 2020
“Coronavirus updates, April 21: Deaths top 1,000; Quebec mulls reopening schools.”
—Andy Riga / Montreal Gazette
Murmurations of Starlings
“Recent studies of starling flocks have shown that each bird modifies its position, relative to the six or seven animals directly surrounding it, no matter how close or how far away those animals are.”
(Rail Bridge Swarm of Starlings. – geograph.org.uk – 124591.jpg / From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository)
“It’s very beautiful”. Love and praise from curator Rachel McCrum, for my micro-story “Murmuration” I published with QWF Writes COVID19 isolation project: ‘Chronicling the Days’ in the context of ‘Archiving the Pandemic’. Read it here https://bit.ly/2xSfjG2
I am also grateful for the opportunity to repost it here in an edited form on the Inanna blog.
I meant to watch endless replays of you. Marisa. And so said: “How are you?” “Okay”. The cell phone pictures of a bus driving up streets, houses of greystone and brick. Schools, libraries, bookstores, restaurants, weddings, funerals, a city in lockdown. Quarantine. I am afraid for you.
This cold spring day. This small lilac sky above the assisted living for seniors, retirement home for my eldest daughter. This seventh day of March. This swarm. This Covid-19 pandemic.
Do you remember finally moving to your own studio, on Avenue Caldwell near Chemin Kildare? Villa-Maria metro, bus 162. And so said: “Do you like it?” A sensation of glassy detachment. Suffering from pulmonary sarcoidosis autoimmune disease. Your bouts of pneumonia. Psychiatric outpatient of Saint Mary’s Hospital. Anxiety Disorder. Daughter on public curatorship. Your three children who grew up without their mother.
I meant to keep packing and unpacking orange boxes. Meant to just watch your medications. Underline them. Put question marks behind them. And so you said: “I’m not like them. I am not.” It’s your monosyllables. Marisa. “Marisella”, your father called you. “My daughter is an artist”, he said. “Babba,” he called you. “Stupid”.
At six you stood up to him, “Stop hitting Mama!” you said.
Fast food. Coke and French fries. Music on a black Boombox. All the different helpers in your life. It would be more than seven. And so you said: “I go to the Shopping Centre.” “Which one?” ”Côte Saint-Luc.” It’s your monosyllables. Swooping starlings in murmuration.
Sounds like the ocean waves. Disappear at the end, like a phantom. Leaving everything else motionless.
Wednesday April 22 2020
“Near-empty Crescent Street. Montreal has 48 per cent of Quebec’s confirmed COVID-19 cases and 60 per cent of the deaths.”
—Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette
I publish my free verse “Arpeggio in Lockdown” with StepAway Magazine, and pleased with editor Darren Carlaw’s praise: “This is powerful writing! We feel that this poem is an excellent fit for our #Lockdown issue.” #Lockdown issue is now online: www.stepawaymagazine.com
From the last stanza:
…glassed-in gardens, old city gates
This Covid-19 pandemic.
I need to call you, Daughter.
Hear your voice.
Sunday May 3, 2020
“During COVID-19 pandemic, sounds of silence in Montreal’s transit system.”
—Jason Magder / Montreal Gazette
“The word comes from the Greek ἐκ ek and φράσις phrásis, ‘out’ and ‘speak’ respectively, and the verb ἐκφράζειν ekphrázein, “to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name. According to the Poetry Foundation, “an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art.” More generally, an ekphrastic poem is a poem inspired or stimulated by a work of art.”
Today on this sunny spring day, I’d like to share a new Ekphrastic poem “Joaquín Torres García’s Café de París” I wrote about the 1920s Années folles, the expatriates, the war survivors, the 1918 Spanish Flu survivors.
Joaquín Torres García’s Café de París
Write it. Write. Oil on canvas. Slate white, red ochre palette. The Années folles in Montparnasse. The avant-garde.
Outline of a rectangular figure here, and another there. Overlaid with black pictographic symbols. We are squat, angular, roughly drawn, says one character. Scratching away brushstrokes, construction of stacked blocks of colour. Write. I put down the word ragtime jazz, and the word flapper. Look at the 1920s, the crazy years. Left Bank of the Seine. Populate the flat, gridded space with archetypal motifs.
Window frames, awning, roof tiles. And the stars.
Where terrace cafés. Where tracing in writers and artists. Until the Lost Generation, the
expatriates, stand upon this stage. Write. At l’Opéra de Paris, Boléro. Shrill piccolo, the oboe.
Sharp staccato of a snare drum.
Thursday May 7, 2020
“It was a most surprising thing to see those streets, which were usually so thronged, now grown desolate, and so few people to be seen in them . . .”
—Defoe: The Journal of the Plague Year, 1665
What is lockdown?
When my dreams wake me up at four in the morning. The “Supermoon” Flower Moon sitting on my windowsill. Clay pot fuchsia geranium in bloom. Schlumbergera. I water them with a watering can my granddaughter gave me.
Ilona Martonfi is a poet, editor, advocate and activist; she is the author of four poetry books, Blue Poppy (Coracle Press, 2009), Black Grass (Broken Rules Press, 2012), The Snow Kimono (Inanna Publications, 2015) and Salt Bride (Inanna Publications, 2019). Forthcoming, The Tempest (Inanna Publications, 2021). Her work has published in six chapbooks, numerous journals across North America and abroad. Recently, her poem “Dachau Visit on a Rainy Day” was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. She is the founder and Artistic Director of The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Reading Series, and Argo Bookshop Reading Series. She is also the recipient of the Quebec Writers’ Federation 2010 Community Award.
Your lockdown diary is very moving and poignant, Ilona, especially because you place it in a historical context of equal gravity. Thank you. You’ve inspired me when inspiration is hard to come by.
Thank you Melanie for your great comment.