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Karen Poppy ’98

Alumnae Poet

Headshot of Karen Poppy

Karen Poppy '98 was in the first class to participate in The Poetry Center at Smith College, and has fond memories of that. She came back to writing poetry and fiction last year, after an almost 20 year creative silence. Most of her publications to date are poetry. 

"Walt Whitman Celebrates Himself," included in her select poems, was published in the American Journal of Poetry. It and another of her poems, "Austria by Train," is included under Holocaust Poetry in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Library and Archives in Washington, D.C. The poem was edited prior to submission by Danielle Durkin '97, who now also has a poem in the American Journal of Poetry. Poppy and Durkin lived together in Ziskind House.

Select Poems

for my late grandmother, Myrna Sisson Kopp


On my grandmother's door,

Walt Whitman knocks like Elijah.

On other doors, Gestapo

Kick their boot-soles.

No help from God.

Seasons pursue each other,

Allies and Axis Powers at war.


When she debuted the year before,

Fabric and sugar scarce, she longed

To be older, wiser, more knowing:

A Walt Whitman, meandering

Through that great consciousness.

Poet of body and soul.

Large, yet modest in her existence.

A song to herself,

Silver brush and vanity mirror, hair

Brushed to a shine, like satin.


Bombs dropped like limitless leaves in the fields.

Wars come and go, so who's there?

Me myself, singing of equalities—

Clear and sweet—

Not yet of death,

That great equalizer.

My grandmother examines

Her Jewish nose

In the mirror.


Walt Whitman's poem starts

With his name, titled all in caps.

He smokes and belches his words,

But we love him. He is a man.

Red-blooded American—no matter

That he's gay. He's shamed

By the mare. Babies just pop out—

Exclamations taken suddenly.

Soon, he's everything and everywhere.


To look beyond your nose is dangerous.

The Holocaust is great, larger than us.


Bodies drop like mossy scabs

Of the worm fence, heaped stones,

Elder mullein and poke-weed.

A child said, “What is the grass?”

Fetching it to me with full hands.

A child said, “The last, the very last...

That butterfly was the last one.

Butterflies don't live here in the ghetto.”

How could I answer the child?

I do not know any more than he.

How could I?

How could she?

My grandmother was 17.


Walt Whitman,

We can beat and pound for the dead,

But their lives are lost, an ocean

Dried by great fire.

We do not contain enough multitudes

To contradict their deaths.

We do not contain enough music or poetry

To honor them justly.

Then death stops somewhere, like it did

For my grandmother,

Waiting for you.

Waiting for me.


In my grandmother's copy

Of Leaves of Grass, inscribed

On January 1, 1945

In careful cursive,

and with her girlhood name,

Myrna Skalovsky.


(Portions in italics quote Walt Whitman's Song of Myself.)


Published in The American Journal of Poetry (July 2018)