Bearing witness to truth, The Tempest is invested in poetry that attempts to reveal human pain through the art of words. Each poem is powerful, but the book’s strength emerges from its collective voice: different political conflicts, cultures, genders, ages, races—one shared human narrative. As we follow these survivors into their past and present lives we learn that poetry was the gift that restored.
The book’s wanderings in and out of forms—erasure poetry, free verse, prose poetry, haiku, tanka, haibun—signal its approach to some important preoccupations. The collection includes tales of love and rage—from displacement and homecoming, Budapest and its lilac hills above the Danube, where bombs fall, where at a train station cattle wagons wait for Jews to be deported to Auschwitz, where her family lives in Pirka, a Bavarian war refugee settlement— to immigrating to Montreal’s ice and snow, founding a family, fleeing an abusive marriage, and becoming an activist and taking a stand against domestic violence.
Like the figure she describes in her ekphrastic poem “Clotho” as “Ensnared in long tentacles of hair, skeletal, toothless, chiseled in white marble…” Martonfi’s The Tempest has hewn her own spare lines to recast her book’s obsession with the politics, violences, and musics of the oral.
”Ambitious in ideas and form, the rhythm of Ilona Martonfi’s poetry shifts effortlessly between the soothing hum of the natural world and the energetic buzz of urban life. Hers is a powerfully original voice that keenly examines animal and human worlds, capturing their beauty and tragedy in equal measure. I was utterly captivated by this new collection.”
—Darren Richard Carlaw, Editor, StepAway Magazine
”Ilona Martonfi’s poems in The Tempest are exquisitely crafted. Frequently, in constellations of images without verbs, her poems keenly reflect the human condition. They are a visual delight but inevitably they incite the reader to contemplate the vexing issues of human complexity, vulnerability and cruelty.”
—H. Nigel Thomas, award-winning writer of fiction, poetry and essays
”The poems in The Tempest resonate with the haunting images of wreckage and the space on the page that allows breath and that which would push through; persist. A pear tree, bog cranberries, all signs of life amid amnesia, and devastated landscapes. Concise and dense. Elegiac and sombre; the poems capture the intricate voices of their resolute speakers, and rather than complain they “would go and gather stars”. A beautiful collection of snapshots into the aftermath and the life that there remains despite everything.”
—Larissa Andrusyshyn, author of the two poetry collections Mammoth and Proof
”Nagasaki, Dachau, Chernobyl: Ilona Martonfi testifies to both terrible events in history as well as various moments in her past, such as her childhood after World War II, her sister’s and brother’s deaths, her travels in other countries. In this moving collection of poetry, love and hope stand up to pain and desolation. The threads of memory weaved in The Tempest reach us deeply with their intelligence and their sensibility.”
—Louise Dupré, poet and novelist
”Words can be weapons, and Ilona Martonfi’s The Tempest isn’t afraid to wield them with a delicate and certain hand. It is difficult to put into words, the power of her work though I often find myself needing to take a long breath after each poem. The words resonant innate truths through the lens of other, mysterious worlds. And yet they’re more than that. Martonfi’s poetry reaches out of the page and demands the reader bear witness to the void, the sublime darkness. Deep trauma is interwoven with seemingly small and domestic moments in time and history that speak to the emotional landscape that underlies reality and the essence of the human experience.”
—Simone Pitot, singer, multi-instrumentalist and composer
At night we morph into paraboles of light.
Us, radioactive albino dogs. Wild boar. Wolves.
As if acting in mime:
concrete sarcophagus encasing reactor 4.
Talks to us of irradiation on the skin
chromosomal aberrations. The cemeteries,
old wooden crosses.
West of Pripyat river
forests are not decaying
bog cranberries. Peat moors,
the bruises of summer skies
we watch you drive to the pear trees
still holding the casket
your house and your garden
and you pick the fruit.
Bumblebees buzzing about
“Babusya look, poppies”
otherworldly blue lambs
and us bleating creatures.
Us, Chernobyl bestiary.
Sometimes, can you explain to a bittern what war is? Now it<
gets closer as if it has a secret to tell. Clucks and booms: Huu bwong.
Unk-er-lunk. Huu huu huu huu. Sometimes, for a while you feel free.
Then you hear teacher’s voice: “Ilka, come and sit back here on this<
bench!” These boglands you can’t understand. This watercolour of
Pirka. Wheat fields. Reeds and sedges, wild irises. The cotton rag
paper, wrinkled from water, as if it was skin. Round goat hairbrushes.
Sometimes, can you explain to a bittern what a song is? Why you play
marbles. Pig-tailed nine year old. Sometimes, you can’t understand
why fourth grade teacher is touching you. Why white horses come in
your dreams. That snort and nicker and goad the rains. Wet birch leaves
in a bomb crater. A waning sickle moon. The creek. Why the iris
is írisz in your mother tongue.
The quiet vigil beside a robotic body. Eldest daughter in the psychiatric
ward. Still I don’t tell her about the spotted T-shirt, stale pizza in the
refrigerator. Acrid odour of cat litter. Flat-faced white Persian cat. Her
possessions. The crinolines in the style of the fifties from her teens. I
remember music blasting from a boombox. Unfinished canvases. Boar
bristle brushes, tubes of acrylic. The skips in language. Monosyllables
catching the moon through glass. I created a shadow box. I went to cut
lilacs in the walled garden. Used a double key to get back in. I cut an old
cloth-bound book and put the blossoms into the book. By night I
compiled a dictionary: spaced out. Filthy. Lazy. Age thirty-three. As she
battles a chronic immune system disease, pulmonary sarcoidosis. Fatigue.
Dry cough. Melancholic depression. Hum of traffic on Decarie
Boulevard near Monkland Avenue. Codes for a locked door. Daughter
admitted for psychotic episode.
FRIDA KAHLO’S CASA AZUL IN COYOACÁN
A headless pre-Columbian ceramic urn
in the shape of a toad-frog
displaying my ashes
here and its cobalt-blue
plaster corset which held me in place
its embedded mirrors, its collages
still naked in their want
I am a mestiza
anti-colonialist, the exotic “other”
long ruffled Tehuana skirts, huipil blouses
turquoise Aztec necklaces
gardenia blossoms in my braids.
Always the now
I paint my Diego
the other day on the train
at my side una anciana, an old woman.
Do you like night? she says.
El primer beso?
What gifts were you given, and curses? she says.
I liked the unibrow and eyes.
But fitted with a wooden leg
where these androgynous vines and roots
that wrapped around naïve folk art
magenta, most alive, the oldest shade.
Much more besides,
my Casa Azul on Calle Londres in Coyoacán
the name from Nahuatl “place of coyotes”
cobblestone streets, small plazas,
a borough of Mexico City
fiestas with mezcal, mole poblano tamales
my pain attached to a fetus
tequila and morphine
the days, I sat in this walled courtyard,
a menagerie of macaw parrots
hairless Xoloitzcuintle dogs, a fawn
two spider monkeys at my side
prickly pear, yucca, and canna lily
the pomegranate trees.
No, the dolls whisper.
Patched monologues. Skip rope chants. Playing tag. Playing marbles. I
came here one year ago. Bombed stone houses. Village of refugees.
I only think about the dolls. I made one looking like my mother.
Slipping under my skin. In the mirror I see her: she is there, in my body.
Writing on the blackboard. White chalk. Oak desks and benches.
Teacher touching her above the white ribbed knee sock.
Even when I thought I was free of her. These lands she couldn’t
understand. Moosgraben creek flowing through Pirka. Nunnery
cemetery. Hooded with a caul. No, the dolls whisper.
and milkweed scent