…If I wasn’t free I couldn’t even live
Sand in the wind, you say that’s what I am
Sand in the wind, that’s what I might be…
Ilona Martonfi, author of Salt Bride Inanna, 2019, collaborates for this Inanna author blog with her granddaughter Jessica Feldman from St. Thomas, Ontario. Jessica is the daughter of Ilona’s eldest daughter Marisa, who is a psychiatric outpatient at Saint-Mary’s Hospital in Montreal.
Marisa who is suffering from pulmonary sarcoidosis and anxiety. Her three children who grew up without their mother.
The blog is divided into four parts: Jessica’s letter to her grandmother. How Ilona uses her poetry to build on her activism as a tool for achieving goals, taking a stand. The Vallum Society for Education in Arts & Letters (VSEAL) hosting literacy workshops with Ilona through their “Poetry for Our Future!” outreach program at Chez Doris homeless shelter. Concluding with Jessica’s poem for her mother.
Tuesday December 24, 2019
I’d like to start by wishing you a Happy Christmas and New Year. Last night I was cleaning up my apartment and found your poetry book, Salt Bride, under my other books. I finally started reading it and oh my God…
Something made me keep reading it Grandma, I don’t know how to say this but, I am so so so so sorry. Writing this to you is making my throat sore because I want to cry. I want to admit this to you because I think it’s important. As a child, my brother and I loved to horse around with not just you, but everyone including my father. I love you dearly and I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you at times you probably needed a hug.
Another thing I want to admit to you is, if I knew my mother’s father did that, those horrible, terrible things to you. I wouldn’t ever had had the desire to meet him. I look back and see him act like any grandfather I’ve seen. I feel awful. I feel like I haven’t been there for you enough. All I want to say is I’m sorry to you, nobody deserves that.
I recently told my friend Will about the times we’d visit mama at McDonald’s in Montreal and that photo frame you gave my brother Matt. I’ll tell you this now, as my jealous stepmother would do her thing to make my father feel bad, he threw it out. I’ll admit another thing to you. You gave me a picture from your album of mama and my father at their wedding. Stepmother threw it out. You gave me another one, she threw it out.
I read your book and it’s affected me in many ways. I now know so much more about you, it’s incredible and sad.
I love you and I miss you. Sorry again. I’ll be there with you this Christmas in your heart.
Wednesday August 7, 2019
Ilona Martonfi Uses her Poetry to Build on her Activism, Taking a Stand
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 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. The book’s five sections are composed of poetry of witness, ekphrastic poems, resistance poems, erasure poems, dream poems, persona poems, elegies.
—Salt Bride by Ilona Martonfi featured on 49th Shelf: Most Anticipated: 2019 Fall Poetry Preview here
Tuesday May 2, 1989
“The dismantling of the electric fence May 2, 1989 along Hungary’s 240 kilometres long border with Austria was the first fissure in the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe for more than 40 years, since the end of World War II, and caused a chain reaction in East Germany that ultimately resulted in the demise of the Berlin Wall.” —Wikipedia
Magyar is my mother tongue. And my mother’s tongue. My birthplace is Budapest. War refugees we lived in Austria and in Bavaria. Emigrated to Montreal autumn 1954. The dispossessed, in the time of crossing the Atlantic by ship.
Surrendering to a foreignness, I would marry a Sicilian man. Letting go in another language.“Bedda”, beautiful. “Moglie”, wife. Mediterranean island of azure seas, white sands, and sunshine. Red oleander flowers.
My experience in those years, putting on my own plays at night in dreams. I remember the first time I said, “Don’t slap me anymore, and I want to take courses.” He gave me a slap, “Now call your police!”
Recognized him for the mirrors he had chosen. Words where I didn’t belong.
Twenty-four years of name-calling and domestic violence. Our four children. Three girls and one boy. Raspberry brambles arranged inside a brick wall. In the orangery stained glass dragonflies. A pool. A sauna. Co-owners of real estate. I worked in our office.
Knitted mohair sweaters. Did crewel stitching. Cooked szilvás gombóc, plum dumplings. Baked birthday cakes. A woman of forty-seven. The year was nineteen eighty-nine.
Packing my life into bags, the act of fleeing. I started doing a few of the things I loved. Why? Because it brought back the joy of my soul: phoning my friends and family. Reading self-help books. Going shopping without taking one of our children as my chaperone.
I also made a promise to myself and found my calling of activism, “I will be a voice for abused women. My grandchildren will not see their grandmother battered.”
For three months I was a resident at the Auberge Transition shelter. Where the women drink tea all day long. The kitchen smells of toast and jam.
They all became used to sharing a room. They all became used to counselling sessions: “Spousal abuse is about power and control. The cycle of violence.” They all took turns at sweeping floors. Preparing dinners. Setting a huge table for a dozen women and their children. They all became used to laughing again.
And in school I became happy again. Mature student, I enrolled at University Concordia. Recalled it was at the graduation of my second eldest daughter in a Bachelor of Fine Arts program at Concordia, as she was walking across the stage and I was sitting beside my husband, I had made another promise to myself, “Someday I will walk across that stage”. My calling became a new profession, crisis worker in a women’s shelter. I was not hired, so I became self-employed.
Remembered words my mother Magda spoke in her mother tongue. I imagined the sound of her voice. How in Magyar my mother taught me to love the song “Homok a szélben”, Sand in the Wind.
My calling was the curator for literary readings at The Yellow Door and the Visual Arts Centre Reading Series. Argo Bookshop Reading Series. Publishing my poetry books, working as an editor, creative writing teacher, and educator. What I missed the most were the family Sundays with my children doing their homework, playing transverse flute for school practice. At my former Anjou suburb house the two McIntosh apple trees I planted some fifty years earlier, still bloomed. The pink wild roses cut. The lilacs. Today I am celebrating the joy of seven grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. Artists, poets, musicians.
Wednesday October 16, 2019
“There’s a fur quilt that hangs over the staircase at Chez Doris. It was crafted between 1994 and 1995 by 14 Inuit women who used the day shelter. They were survivors, women who looked out for each other and tried to act as maternal figures to younger women in a crisis.
Today many of them are dead.
After the Open Door shelter moved out of the downtown neighbourhood last December, Chez Doris saw a steady increase in demand for its services.”
—Christopher Curtis / Montreal Gazette
In a single narrative, a picture of the city emerged: Westmount, Cabot Square, Chez Doris at 1430, rue Chomedey. I had to put dots to colours and to make sense of what I saw. High rise condos. Coffee shops. Benches in a park. Ash trees laden with ice and snow. Little brown sparrows singing on a lamp post. The streets. The homeless on the streets. The language of grey concrete. Nouns that had no childhood.
Wednesday June 29, 2016
“Poetry for Our Future!” at Chez Doris
Vallum Society for Education in Arts & Letters (VSEAL) hosts literacy workshops through our “Poetry for Our Future!’ outreach program.
Meet Chez Doris!
Chez Doris is a Montreal charity offering daytime shelter, seven days a week for all women in difficulty. They provide meals, respite, clothing, practical assistance, and socio-recreational activities for women in need of a safe space, and for women avoiding or escaping homelessness. Fostering a secure and accepting environment, Chez Doris helps women to build or rebuild their lives with support and respect.
VSEAL poet Ilona Martonfi hosts four yearly collaborative, bilingual workshops at Chez Doris in poetry. These workshops offer women a safe space in which to express themselves, to plan for the future, and to rebuild self-confidence. As a past workshop participant told us, “I feel hopeful about the future and have enjoyed sharing. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share with the others. Expression of your innermost feelings with people who are open to receive is priceless.”
Vers libre definition:
Unrhymed cadence in free verse is built upon the rhythm of the speaking voice. The unit is the strophe, which may be the whole poem, or only a part. Each strophe is a complete circle. —Wikipedia
It is a great pleasure to post on this Inanna author blog one of my first free verse poems I wrote for a Concordia University Introductory Poetry Workshop. “Visiting the Ridge” published with Vallum Magazine 1:1, spring 2001.
Visiting the Ridge
from this view, I see it better
from this perpetual angle of scarred trees
grating to find an answer
blue-white freckles and strawberry blossoms
a horsefly swishing across my face
riddled and pinned on a leaf
wild roses and blackberry bush
in a soft, white crinoline skirt
I don’t know how to write the truth
the green fly on my hand
this is where home is
I would like to end with my granddaughter Jessica’s poem “Dear Mommy” she wrote for her mother.
Sunday April 18, 2004
by Jessica Feldman, age 12
I will think about you in the morning
I love you
I will think about you in the lunchtime
I love you
I will think about you in the afternoon
I love you
I will think about you in the evening
I love you
I will think about you at night
I love you
I will think about you when I dream
I love you
I will think about you forever
I love you
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.