Poet honored by Holocaust Commission

by | Aug 16, 2013 | Book Reviews

(Poems Woven from the Threads of Life)
Mary Braford Martin
Poetica Publishing Company, 2013
30 pages, $15

This is gifted poet Mary Martin’s first published book of verse, an inspiring debut honoring the language of the heart—and Martin’s heart is an embracing one. The enchanting collection of 21 poems over 30 pages reflects both the humility of a grateful heart ever seeking to connect to her world within and without, along with a stubborn insistence to express herself.

This Righteous Gentile, whom I have come to know and appreciate, has been profoundly impacted by the Shoah’s multilayered tragedy. In fact, her bond with the remarkable Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater has made a difference in her life as an educator, as well as in her students’ lives in Virginia for the past 35 years. She was an English high school teacher for 26 years in Suffolk and Chesapeake and for the last 10 years taught writing at Tidewater Community College. Her thesis for a M.S. Ed. in Secondary Education from Old Dominion University in 1995 was a developed curriculum for Holocaust education.

The Holocaust Commission honored Martin in April 2000 for Excellence in Holocaust Education. She presented her poem, Remembering the Holocaust, in memory of Elie Wiesel’s family, to Wiesel in person. His hand-written note of appreciation has meant the world to Martin. Both the poem and the note are preserved at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The poem is testimony to Martin’s undying spirit of hope, never submitting to evil’s persistence. “Yet like each generation, / the phoenix continues to rise again, / As each generation returns to claim / What their forefathers sought in vain. / Humanity from inhumanity.”

Subject and sensitive to life’s normal transitions and losses, she painfully mourns the death of her parents in the same year, 2006. In aptly titled Rudderless at 52 she nonetheless succeeds in capturing the depths of losing her parents’ unconditional love and protection, “Their dual deaths left me submerged / In unknown, discomfiting darkness.” Her honesty and courage to expose her human failure and vulnerability extends to very private matters she faces head on. In When Love is Not Enough, she shares, “I thought I was the answer to your prayers / And the solution, to your problems. / So, it came as a shocking surprise / To realize that I was not enough/ To calm your inner fears and / To help you realize your dreams.”

How liberating is her ability to transcend the limitations that chained her, learning to navigate life’s uneven course while offering us all indispensable hope, “I sway to the music of life, / now free from imposed fears and other toxins. / Now chainless, I embrace all that life has to offer, / The taste of freedom is, indeed, intoxicating.” She also finds consolation and reassurance in nature’s works with the storm giving way to calm, “The sun’s rays brilliantly break through the darkness/ as if to demonstrate that goodness most always overcomes evil.”

Martin’s sincerity meaningfully communicated from a loving heart in an understated yet effective way, manages to connect life’s threads (the book’s title) in a tapestry made whole. We look forward to a second collection from this true and talented poet.

—Rabbi Israel Zoberman, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Chaverim in Virginia Beach, is the son of Polish Holocaust survivors.