With a pocket knife
the world had been cut.
And much blood has been shed. Poems
and nights. The wind played along, but
didn't finish—For women,
it was a matter of life,
but for us a matter of death, not only
our lips thirsted after
the spring. Even our voice!
Voice, dried out and blood-stained,
go to the home
which cliffs and greenery
perceive as lost—if it's found for them, what
a time that will be!
it will push through with its prow
everything rotting in us now—
Jirí Ohrenstein, born in Central Bohemia in 1919, is considered one of the finest writers of Czechoslovakia's so-called war generation. As a teenager, Orten moved to Prague and began to publish poems in avant-garde journals and to act in experimental theater groups. His first book of poems, Cítanka jaor (Reader of Spring) was published in 1939. In 1940, following the German occupation of Prague, Orten was expelled from school and forced to take odd jobs, such as clearing snow. For fear of denunciation from anti-Semitic newspapers, he published his poems under pseudonyms. His collections of poems from this time include Cesta k mrazu (The Journey towards Frost, 1940) and Ohnice (Charlock, 1941). On his twenty-second birthday, Orten, while trying to cross the street to purchase cigarettes, was struck by a German ambulance. Because he was a Jew, the first hospital he went to refused to admit him. He died two days later. His diaries, which contained not only all of his poems but also record many of his conversations, letters, and dreams, were published in three volumes after his death. Following the arrival of Communism and socialist realism in Czechoslovakia in 1948, however, his work was condemned as "degenerative muck." He would regain favor during the Prague Spring in the late 1960s. Orten's poems show a strong influence of both Czech folklore and surrealism.
Lyn Coffin was born on Long Island, New York. She is the author of nine books: two of poetry, one of poetry/fiction/drama, and six of translation. She has published poetry, fiction, and non-fiction in over fifty quarterlies and small magazines, including Catholic Digest and Time magazine. Her plays have been performed at theaters in Malaysia, Singapore, Boston, New York (Off Off Broadway), Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Seattle. She has given poetry readings with Nobel Prize winners Joseph Brodsky and Czesław Miłosz, and Philip Levine, among others. She is a member of Washington Poets' Association, PoetsWest, Seattle Playwrights' Studio, and Dramatists' Guild. Zdenka Brodska's criticism has been published in venues including The New York Review of Books and she has translated widely from Czech.