I don’t have an MFA in photography, but I have one in poetry. I’m proud of it, in part because of its impraticality and steadfast denial of the marketplace. There isn’t a more worthless degree to have, frankly, but it’s been invaluable to me personally, and isn’t that what riches are all about?
Enough Marx-lite. When I came across this Poetry Foundation podcast from February that included a portfolio of poems by George Szirtes written about 20th century photographs, I gave a little celebratory hoot.
The presentation of the poems on their site isn’t ideal, so I’ve included one here with it’s instigating photograph, “Children of the Ghetto” by Henryk Ross. It’s a street scene of a child who’s playing like he’s a Nazi, marching his playmates to their end.
Scroll forward in the podcast below to 5:20 to hear an introduction to the work and the author himself. Just do it. You’ll thank yourself.
Ross: Children of the Ghetto
by George Szirtes
Love, we were young once, and ran races
over rough ground in our best shiny shoes,
we kicked at stones, we fell over, pulled faces.
Our knees were filthy with our secret places,
with rituals and ranks, with strategy and ruse.
Love, we were young once and ran races
to determine the most rudimentary of graces
such as strength and speed and the ability to bruise.
We kicked at stones, we fell over, pulled faces,
and doing so left no permanent traces
because we fought and fell only to confuse
love. We were young. Once we ran races
in ghettos, in camps, in the dismal spaces
of the imagination reserved for Jews.
We kicked at stones, we fell over, pulled faces
at elastic braces, shoelaces, empty packing cases
as if they were the expressions we could choose.
Love, we were young once, and ran races.
We kicked at stones, we fell over, we pulled faces.
Please listen to the mp3 here, if the player doesn’t work for you.