The Snow Kimono


poems by Ilona Martonfi

Print: 978-1-77133-257-6 – $18.95
ePUB: 978-1-77133-258-3 – $8.99
PDF: 978-1-77133-260-6 – $8.99

128 Pages
October 20, 2015

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Ilona Martonfi’s third poetry collection, The Snow Kimono, can best described as an obsession with truth. The Snow Kimono invites the reader into a magical world where reality shimmers with the fragile beauty of the moment and the dark, haunting awareness of a painful past that lingers just out of sight. Compassionate and disturbing, witness poems elaborate on history, exile, the war refugee, the dispossessed, and the disappeared. Other, more personal poems concern themselves with love, identity, place, and with loss — especially in the series keening for a mentally ill daughter. The past and the present mix in this compelling collection of free verse and prose poetry that draw the reader into a language that illuminates the way in which the beauty of human spirit is both concise and eloquent.

“I don’t know how many wounds poetry can heal, but I know poetry can bear witness. Ilona Martonfi’s clear-eyed poems in The Snow Kimono bear witness to a grief shared across time and continents. From what she calls ‘the unsalvageable,’ she has salvaged a difficult beauty – the lucid, unflinching songs of one who has come through.”

—Mark Abley, Canadian poet, journalist, editor and non-fiction writer

“Poems to be worried in the hand over and over like small beads. Poems that are honed, hard-won, distilled through memory, pain, love, redemption. This latest collection, The Snow Kimono, by Ilona Martonfi bears the same sparse yet painterly language, the same staccato intoning of the world and self that has marked her poetry from the start. Barbed wire. Reed warbler. Streetcar. Wooden clogs. Ochre yellow. The lone images gather. Meaning moves, clutches, in the liminal spaces between. Martonfi’s personal past here broadens out, mingles with imagined others – a bomb victim, Margarita of Medieval Verona, Bog woman. We move through a world implacably harsh, yet graced with a keening beauty and, always, the salve of nature. Always, too, flawed humanity, with clipped wing, insisting still on flight. As witness, these poems.”

—Victoria LeBlanc, Concordia University, creative writing and art studies. Curator of the Gallery at Victoria Hall and director of the Visual Arts Centre and the McClure Gallery

“In The Snow Kimono, Ilona Martonfi deftly paints a series of succinct tableaux which present women’s distress with as much subtlety as restraint. Their grief is depicted through precise and masterly poetic writing that touches the reader deeply. When we close the book, these portraits continue to inhabit us. Here, poetry meets life.”

—Louise Dupré, Author of art books, poetry collections, essays and novels. Recipient of the 2011 Governor General’s Award for her poetry collection Plus haut que les flames

Born in Budapest, Ilona Martonfi is a Montreal poet, editor, and creative writing teacher. She is the author of two poetry books, Blue Poppy (2009) and Black Grass (2012), and two chapbooks, Visiting the Ridge (2004) and Charivari (2013.) Her work has published widely in numerous journals across North America and abroad. Recently, her poem “Winter on Pine Avenue” was nominated for the 2014 Pushcart Prize.

Girl with burned hands

Tied in a furoshiki

silk cloth,


white light


shadows of Nagasaki

walking along a street

my sister Sakhue

going to school


unaware of the plutonium

at 11:02 a.m. August 9, 1945

Tokiwa Bridge

the sun falling


hands bent claw-like

a nine-year-old girl


by the Nakajima river

on the island of Kyūshū


Sakhue cries and calls for mother.

The rain black

in bamboo groves



bowl of rice, chopsticks

wooden clogs.



Hibakusha —A-bomb survivors

This is the dress I was wearing that day,

I was fourteen years old


August 9, 1945, 11:02 a.m.

was a calm day, no wind


pure white

roof tiles

bones of the dead

could not form the sound:


the atomic bomb dropped on us

the shadow where a child stood


the sun fallen out of the sky, old cedar hills,

close to Nakashima River where reeds were growing


all I could hear was black rain falling


looking at fireflies

with its houses gone

covered with mud and blood


in a pumpkin field, hibakusha.

We, who have survived


walking along rice paddies


how small was Mount Inasa

on the island of Kyūshū


which way was I supposed to go?


I remember the cicadas singing

but I didn’t have my mother Sadako anymore


no clocks, no calendars.

1 review for The Snow Kimono

  1. inannaadmin

    The Snow Kimono by Ilona Martonfi
    reviewed by Abby Paige
    Montreal Review of Books – Vol 49, Spring 2016

    Also rooted in the reverberations of World War II, The Snow Kimono begins in Nagasaki and travels the world, making stops in Europe, North America, and Japan, less as tourist than refugee, which poet Ilona Martonfi once was. Wandering geographically and temporally, Martonfi links the public and global violence of war and genocide with intimate forms of violence, such as child and spousal abuse, demonstrating how difficult it has been throughout history, particularly for women, to find safe refuge.

    Atmospheric and spare, most poems in the collection consist of images strung together like beads, as though their speakers are trying to piece together memories one object at a time. “The cellar room,” which remembers a World War II air raid over Budapest, is representative:

    Candles and kerosene lamps dispel darkness.
    On the oak table: krumplileves — potato soup. Corn bread.
    Here in my childhood house. Christmas Eve, 1944:
    a besieged Budapest. Snow-covered boulevards.
    Steep clay stone roof. Chimney. The woodbox stacked
    with logs and coal.

    A bridge in Guernica; a city street in eighteenth-century Venice; the unhappy home of a husband and his wife, whose body has been exhumed from a Dutch bog nearly two thousand years later: the settings Martonfi draws are vivid even when they are imagined. The poet’s ability to take us from place to place gives the collection a telescopic sensibility, within which notions of here and there, now and then, shift, suggesting that what is distant can become, through a slight change in light, suddenly intimate.


    The Snow Kimono by Ilona Martonfi
    reviewed by Candice James
    Canadian Poetry Review – February 27, 2016

    The Snow Kimono presents itself in five sections, and takes us on a poetic journey encompassing memoir, history, the tragedies of World War II and the victims displaced and thrown aside as the war machine mowed down borders, bodies, and sometimes spirit.

    In PART I, Ilona Martonfi starts the book off with a mix of brilliant imagery and forlorn heartbreak gleaned from the underbelly of war’s shell shock and fallout. In the second poem “Hibakaushu – A -bomb survivors” she recalls in vivid detail, the dress she was wearing on the fateful day the Atomic Bomb fell and unleashed its dastardly and wanton destruction on an unsuspecting Japan; August 9, 1945 when she was fourteen years old.

    The imagery in “River ashes” is quietly vivid and disturbing at the same time: “Portraits in water / on light coloured stone; / ivory-black, ochre and white. / Human ashes scattered.”

    In PART II, the poet takes us through the deep pain and suffering both emotionally and physically suffered by women she has known. In the poem “Footbinding” she succinctly illustrates the feelings of a woman whose body and spirit have been subjected to the archaic Japanese practice of footbinding: “Tightly bound with cloth / soaked in mulberry root / like the hooves of a goat / with a narrow cleft / four smaller toes // curled up into stumps / the arch broken.” An amazing description that makes the reader’s blood run cold.

    “Grandmother Mariska” is a wistful poem as it starts and ends with a life changed drastically by the war and falling between the cracks. The story of a girl from a family of stature who was displaced by the war and farmed out to a peasant family: “Beyond the Bihar forests / Austria Hungary / wheat fields and peach trees” now old enough to marry, but no longer a desirable match due to the change in her social status as a result of the war. The final result evidenced in the last four lines of the poem: “Ludwig Hass, a landowner’s son / would not have married a servant. / Beyond the Bihar forests, in a Magyar village: / Mariska bore a daughter, Magda.” This poem spells out just one of the many life stories war has rewritten; just one of the lives war has edited.

    In “Mother’s mortuary dress” I could feel the deep inner sadness a desolation revealed by Martonfi: “Carpathian village / by the Maros river // shingle roof cottage. / Unwed grandmother Mariska / bears a daughter, Magda.”// Late into the night – I sew mother’s burial gown// Late into the night. / Tiny silver buttons. / Peasant lace.”

    PART III starts out with a few esoteric poems about a wedding and moves into “What she said (daughter)”. I particularly like the opening stanza that transports the poets psyche to an untouchable place: “I will let tree swallows / live under my clay tile attic roof /”. Stanza seven repeats these two lines and creates a perfect ending to the poem, but Martonfi continues on with five more lines in two more stanzas. I found myself wishing the poem had ended five lines earlier at the end of stanza seven where the poet repeated the first two opening lines. To my mind, this would have succinctly tied up the poem with a glorious shiny bow and allowed both the poet and the reader to remain in that untouchable place between moments….. until the beginning of the next poem that catches my fancy which is “A river house”. There is a very sad and maudlin mood to this poem that ebbs and flows in cathartic dance as the poet dwells on the auction of her old family home where she grew up in, once again alluding to the roof tiles and sparrows in earlier poems: “Clay roof tile, under the eaves / sparrow nests boarded / ”. We are brought to the stark realization that the sparrows will nest no more in these eaves. They are gone. Mother is gone. Childhood is gone but the memories remain as they pass in poignant film clips flashing off and on, off and on like multi-coloured neon signs.

    In “Carnevale di Venezia”, the vivid imagery immediately draws the reader into the poem with eloquent ease. The opening lines set a vibrant stage: “Rococo ruffles, brocade gown, a wig / burgundy cape made of silk /”. A beautiful poem, but once again I find it compromised by extra lines that would be better left out. The following three lines are the ones I feel don’t fit and should be omitted: “water-trapped palazzos / acqua alta – high tides / from November to April” as they usurp the power and impact of the final 2 lines of the poem: “Giolio and I, Orsetta / dancing minuet at the Carnival Ball.”

    PART IV takes the reader into the very distant past: “Schipluiden bog woman” (1678); “Van Gogh’s Street in Santas-Marias” (1888); “Aran Islands: Eire (1902); “Modigliani’s Woman with Velvet Ribbon” (1915); “A rented box” (1942); then… the past gives way to the present as we drift into the title poem “the snow kimono”.

    PART V opens the door to the “Hygge Hut” and invites us into bygone Nordic Yuletide memories of family and friends: “laced ankle boots, red mittens / tobogganing on a snowy hill //; and the vivid ending lines: “mother wrapping gifts / the glow of a log fire // the tree bright with white candles.”

    The Snow Kimono opens slowly to reveal a landscape of magic dancing with reality on a dance floor of fragile dreams where pain holds hands with loss then tumbles softly into the tender embrace of understanding and acceptance. We see the world from outside in and inside out through the eyes of war scarred refugees. We see war’s victims stripped right down to the core and then past the core until they become ghosts of the past that can’t be laid to rest. Love, compassion, understanding and warmth balance on one side of freedom’s sword while fragility, depression, mental instability, and tears teeter on the other side of the blade. This is a book to dive into and swim with both sharks and angels.

    About the Poet: Ilona Martonfi lives in Montreal and is the author of three poetry books, “Blue Poppy”(2009), “Black Grass” (2012) and “The Snow Kimono” (2015). Her work has been published widely in chapbooks and numerous journals across North America and overseas. Recently, her poem “Winter on Pine Avenue” was nominated for the 2014 Pushcart Prize. She is the founder and producer of “The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Readings:, and co-founder of “Lovers & Others”. She is also the recipient of the Quebec Writers’ Federation 2010 Community Award.

    About the Reviewer: Candice James is in her 2nd three year term as Poet Laureate of New Westminster. She is past president of both Royal City Literary Arts Society and Federation of British Columbia Writers; a full member of League Canadian Poets; and author of eleven poetry books: the first A Split In The Water” (Fiddlehead Poetry Books 1979); and the most recent are “Merging Dimensions” (Ekstasis Editions 2015); and “Short Shots – a coffee table poetry book” (Silver Bow Publishing 2016) . Candice was awarded the prestigious Bernie Legge Artist Cultural Award 2015 and was also the recipient of Pandora’s Collective Citizenship award 2015. She is the founder of Poetic Justice; Poetry In the Park; Slam Central; Poetry New Westminster and Royal City Literary Arts Society. Further info at website: http://www.candicejames.com and Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candice_James

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