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April 27, 2014

Survival through art

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, poet will talk about how art raises the spirit

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Espaillat will also bring several of Korwin's paintings to her talk, which display a marked contrast from her verse.

"Her painting is surprisingly upbeat and beautiful," she said. "With the colors of life, beautifully bright, full of fruit and flowers and bright clothing. It looks like it had been done by a person who never had a bad day in her life."

People have questioned Korwin about this positive tone in her painting and its contrast with her poetry. Her reply: "My job is to bring life back," Espaillat said.

Korwin also explores this difference between her two types of work in a poem, "In My House of Three Levels."

The poem is written in a complex form called a pantoum, Espaillat said, so its structure mimics the levels it describes.

"On one level she has the darkness of what she remembers of the Holocaust," Espaillat said. "On another she has these voices, the poetry in which she carries on the voices of the dead she lost. On another, the painting level, she has fruits and bright colors.

"She poured the griefs into the poetry, but she poured the love of life and the insistence on living into the painting."

Espaillat said Korwin is still writing in her 90s. While Korwin is not as strong as she once was, intellectually she is "as good as new," Espaillat said.

"The thing that draws me to her work is first of all the courage," Espaillat said. "Adorno said that after the Holocaust, it's impossible to write poetry, but Yala said that's not the case.

"It is necessary to write poetry, to see to it that those who want to destroy our culture don't win, that art wins. We survive through art."

Espaillat, who met Korwin at a workshop in 1986, said she is motivated by a similar impulse in her own work.

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