CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper/fiction writer, poet, photographer, & painter. CRC Blog is an INCLUSIVE & NON-PROFIT BLOG acknowledging ALL voices, ALL individuals, ALL political views, ALL philosophies, and ALL religions including Islamism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Agnosticism, Atheism, etc. She has a B.S. in Criminal Justice & completed her workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing. She lives in St. Louis.
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***This is #157 in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem. All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece.
#157 Backstory of the Poem
“Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup of 7000 Jews Detained in an Arena”
by Liz Marlow
Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form? I began writing this poem when I first learned about the Vel d’Hiv roundup of 13,152 Jews in France to internment camps (later on, Nazis sent those people to concentration camps) beginning in July 1942 from reading a news article about the murder of a Parisian Jew who had avoided the roundup. As I researched the 1942 event and how 7,000 of those rounded up were detained in an arena, I tried to imagine what being one of those detainees would be like. Since the arena was so overcrowded, sensory overload was what came to mind, which sparked the idea to divide the poem into five parts—one for each of the five senses.
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail. I wrote the first draft of this poem (and later drafts) in my best friend’s mother’s condo (Below). The condo is across the street from an Orthodox synagogue (Right), and it is a quiet neighborhood. As I enter the condo, I pass a neighbor’s menorah in the window. While my best friend and I write, the only sounds we hear are from us shifting in our brown leather recliners or the HVAC unit cooling or heating the living room. I always write on my laptop, which rests on a wool plaid blanket across my lap. Since my best friend’s mother is an artist, I am surrounded by her artwork, which she changes out every few months. Next to the recliners is a fireplace framed in oak with a hand-built mantle.
What month and year did you start writing this poem? I began writing this poem in March 2018.
How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?) The poem went through ten drafts before its final draft. Originally, it had two major sections. The first section described the event from 1942.
The second section was about the murder of the Parisian Jew, which occurred in March of 2018. However, I turned that second major section into a separate poem, because the two sections had completely different tones. Since I wrote all drafts of this poem on my laptop, I do not have any pen markings.
Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version? And can you share them with us? Lines that I ended up cutting from the “Sound” section of the poem:
I stand next to a woman,
my ear against her
mouth, hear her sighs
like a flute.
Cut lines from “Smell”:
takes a life
of its own.
Without water, food,
imagines bread rising.
we become livestock
standing in our own shit.
At least geese raised
for foie gras are fed.
Cut lines from “Taste”:
Which is worse,
or a dead human?
Cut lines from “Sight”:
I close my eyes
a street filled
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? Background on the event: Beginning July 16, 1942, French police carried out orders by the Nazis to detain 13,152 Jews in various transit camps and at the Velodrome d’Hiver (an indoor cycling arena) before their eventual deportation to Auschwitz. Roughly 7,000 Jews (including 4,000 children) were held in the arena for five days with horrible sanitary conditions, no ventilation (to prevent escape), and lack of food and water.
There are many connections that readers can make between this poem and recent events from the US or many other parts of the world. This event that occurred during World War II shows how easily local police, politicians, and citizens can be convinced that innocent men, women, and children deserve to die simply because they are refugees, foreigners, and different. However, we are all humans.
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? The “Sound” part of the poem was the most emotional for me to write. If I close my eyes, I imagine a terrible sound of thousands of people trapped and full of fear in an arena. I have two children, and my son was two when I started writing this poem. He feels my emotions very intensely. When I am upset, he gets upset. When I imagine the sounds of all those children crying from lack of nourishment and improper ventilation, it saddens me, and I think of him and my daughter as babies. What’s horrifying is that French policemen stood outside and did nothing while they heard all of those sounds.
Has this poem been published before? And if so where? Although this poem has not appeared in a journal, it is included in my debut chapbook, They Become Stars, which will launch at AWP 2020 in San Antonio, TX from Slapering Hol Press.
Liz Marlow’s debut chapbook, They Become Stars, was the winner of the 2019 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition and is forthcoming in 2020. Her other work has appeared in The Bitter Oleander, The Greensboro Review, Potomac Review, Tikkun, and elsewhere.