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POETRY AFTER AUSCHWITZ by PHIL VERNON | SPM Publications, Poetry                                                       

Second Prize Winner, Sentinel Poetry Book Competition 2018

Poetry After Auschwitz Front Cover


The critic Theodor Adorno famously declared that ‘writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’, and there is no shortage of brutality today, to challenge the intrinsic beauty and relevance of poetry. In these poems, which draw on his experience of working in some of the world’s troubled places, Vernon exploits the energy created in the convergence of and collision between form, ideas, music and emotion, to explore what poetry offers. Reaching out to real and imagined figures from past and present, from near and far, he considers how the brushstroke of history touches us all, and what remains of us, each in our particular landscape, after the brush has passed. He examines the changes wrought on people and peoples by others and by circumstance, and the tension between our deep human connection across time and space, and the fundamental impermanence we cannot elude. In the end he seems to say that ultimately, all we can be certain of is uncertainty. And perhaps we should find a way to be content with that.


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Poetry After Auschwitz by Phil Vernon


Poetry after Auschwitz

‘Poetry is pointless – like kicking a stone’

- overheard at a poetry reading


At the start and the end of this long, straight road:

a silent child, a house in flames,

a leafless tree, an empty town


He kicks a stone to watch it leap

and skitter on the flattened clay,

then slow and stall and go to ground


Along the forest edge stand those

he's failed to save, he sings his song;

his unknown patrons hear no sound


and yet he feels their silence deep

beneath his feet, and sees beyond

the tree, the child, the house, the town.

Mysterious garden


That loosestrife overwhelms the rose

in June, which branches bow when wet,

a secret silence when it snows,

how birds change key before sunset,


that leaves now green were apple red,

where wrens build nests behind the fern,

which clematis wear velvet threads

and which wear silk: all this we’ve learned.


And yet, it’s only as we turn

the soil, and sow and thin and hoe,

and tie the taller stems to stays,


and coax the unforeseen, and prune

to let light in, we start to know

what this year’s garden wants to say.


This is an emotionally complex collection that sits in the gap between the poetry of witness and experience. Vernon's poems are often formal with measurement, and contain much musicality. His poems are political, both in the personal and the global sense. Vernon writes from heartbreak, carrying the ordinary person’s bewilderment and responsibility at the ‘state of the world’ and is highlighted by poems such as “Solidarity” where he inhabits the spaces where our only power is to reach out to each other. These are poems written from the perspective of a life lived, and ask how we should continue to live.

     - Jessica Mookherjee


     Many of the poems here deal with difficult subjects: death, loss, sin, mass murder, failing relationships, failing health, injustice, inhumanity. Phil Vernon is a poet who is not afraid to confront such things head on, and is clearly very concerned with tackling the serious issues in life. Fortunately, he also deftly uses form to offset the disturbing nature of their subject…These are delicately beautiful poems, touching, nostalgic, sad, glittering with melancholy…Throughout the collection the intelligence and craft of the author is paramount, exhibiting imagination, sensitivity and a balanced judgement…Poetry after Auschwitz is full of moments of phrasing or movement which surprise or which resonate, and it’s not afraid to find a music in its syntax which is relatively unusual in contemporary poetry.

     - Noel Williams


     Vernon is a natural metrical poet and in Poetry After Auschwitz he combines emotion and technique with a strong narrative voice that cries out to be heard. Form plays a crucial role in this collection, presenting passionate and empathetic poems that hum like the earth itself – here are poems of human endurance skilfully sculpted as if into rock.

     - Abegail Morley


Phil Vernon bravely takes up the challenge he sets for himself in the title of his first full collection, Poetry After Auschwitz. Here are powerful poems about war and its aftermath of loss and survival, along with poems about a wide range of  other political and historic events. Here too are love poems and poems about gardens and the natural world. With its complex rhyme schemes and strong rhythms, Vernon’s work is accomplished and assured. It confronts difficult subjects. It is courageous and rises to the challenge. 

- Mara Bergman

The small things goddesses do

In ancient Greece, a goddess, nymph

or god was always near at, and

prepared to lend a helping hand

to make a herdsman from a prince,

a shipwrecked sailor reach the shore,

and war from peace, or peace from war.

Too neat, I always thought, too neat...


Until, collapsed from drink and stress

in a London park, and hauled to my feet

and then let fall, by CID,

an Aphrodite in a summer dress

appeared, with the warmest smile,

and sat with me as I revived

enough to shuffle, sheepish, home,

while she returned to the hills, alone...


And when they set the pumps to flood

the Athens park, beneath whose shrubs

we’d slept, and sent us scurrying with

our sleeping bags for higher ground,

Demeter, dressed in widow’s black,

emerged unbid from dawn to give

us carrier bags of bread and grapes,

then turn and walk away

without a further glance or sound.


So they were right, the poets, that

the gods descend in mortal shape

and influence the course we take:

slight variances of fate, perhaps –

no major shifts of plot; as acts

of kindness surely cannot not 

impact how those they touch proceed, 

nor how they impact those they touch

in turn...

                But are they kindnesses?

We count as playthings merely, seen

from Mount Olympus, and I need

to ask those careless goddesses

who squandered intercession on

my undeserving youth, have I

exhausted all my share?


There’s neither shade nor sky. I watch

you slump against the hollow rim

of where what’s yet to come, or gone,

is dried and lifted by the wind

to fall and fleck the dunes; you dare

not dream nor raise your eyes beyond

horizons where the haze begins.


I do, and see that neither what

nor how we pray, makes any odds

at all to goddesses who change

the views they look down on, at whim,

between this arid lowland, and

a valley blessed by quiet rain.



Product details

Paperback: 84 pages

ISBN-10: 1916226310

ISBN-13: 978-1916226319

Product Dimensions : 15.24 x 0.51 x 22.86 cm

Publisher: SPM Publications (20 Aug. 2020)

Language: : English

Cover Art: Angelus Novus by Paul Klee (1920)

Book & Cover Design by Nnorom Azuonye

Delivery times: 7 days (UK), 14 days (Europe) and 28 Days (Rest of the World)

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