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Habry Paperback – May 1, 2009
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From the Author
Goodreads chose "Habry" as book of the month in March 2012. Its site had a discussion of "It's Been Centuries Since My Parents Died," a poem in "Habry."
From the Inside Flap
Helen Degen Cohen's remarkable poetic memoir re-enters the mind of the child, who understands nothing and accepts everything, for whom experience consists of discrete, often luminous images. There is a floating, Chagall-like quality about many of these deeply moving poems.- Lisel Mueller What strikes me in Helen Degen Cohen's poetry is how the leaden material of history in lifted and made to soar by the vitality of the poet's imagination - sometimes surreal, sometimes witty, sometimes merely glorious.- Alicia Ostriker ...a voice of authority mixed with childlike innocence, a voice isolated from norms, both engendered by and expressing a state of innocence as well as knowledge. Its power is immense...- Lucia Getsi Helen Degen Cohen's (aka Halina Degenfisz) awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, First Prize in British Stand Magazine's International Fiction Competition, three Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, an Indiana Writers Conferenec Award and fellowships to the major arts colonies. She co-edits the poetry journal, Rhino.
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Helen wrote about her experiences as a child during the war. She was in the Lida Ghetto in Belorus, then in hiding with her parents in the town's little prison (where her father, a barber and jack-of-all-trades, created a flood only he could fix, in order to show the Gestapo how indispensable he was). Later, separated from her parents, she was in hiding again in a cabin surrounded by the farm fields she grew to love and the flowers that grew alongside them. The flowers were like habry, cornflowers. While she was in hiding, her parents were with the partisns in the resistance, as described in the new movie Defiance.
Her story and the way she told it touched me. I still can't relate what happened to her when she became separated from her parents and her mother gave her a tin cup without tears coming into my voice. I searched out her writing in little magazines like Spoon River Poetry Review and anthologies like Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust and Concert at Chopin's House: A Collection of Polish-American Writing.
Her fiction and essays blew me away, but I found myself especially drawn to the voice in her poems. I re-read them and thought about them and wrote a scholarly article about them.
When I heard that Helen was finally gathering these poems together and publishing them along with more recent poems about her experiences, I looked forward to her book more than I can remember looking forward to any other book of poems.
That book Habry was everything I had hoped it to be.