Poetry Centre

Weekly Poem for 04 June 2020

  • On top of the Monte Carlo

    in North Miami Beach, almost thirty floors up,
    there’s an Orthodox Jew smoking a cigarette and gasping
    at the ocean. I do that too sometimes, wondering if 

    the waves think they can catch up to one another.
    I am jogging and dodging feral cats who weren’t here
    a few years ago, but dart about like water-less minnows 

    across this path, and I wonder if this smoking Jew is
    from Paris. There are lots of French-speakers down
    here and their words swim into my ears soaked 

    with Yiddish I don’t understand but understand.
    And I am a Reform Jew, if that, and I don’t smoke,
    but I am running and thinking of Grandpa who smoked 

    a pipe and how he was Orthodox for a while in NY,
    but he never talked to me about that, nor about much
    of anything from his past. He spoke German until 

    he fled the Gestapo on some rickety ship to Brazil
    where he learned Portuguese and made it
    to the States and learned English and how to be 

    an American citizen—he did tell me about that.
    I speak un peu du Francais, the “pretty” language
    Grandpa told me to study instead of the ugly claw 

    of German, but can’t imagine having to flee my home,
    my country, my language for simply being what I was
    born to be and I am agnostic and believe God shakes 

    his head like Grandpa used to while He watches religion
    puff and puff and blow too much down. And there was
    Bullay’s mayor telling Oma to sell everything for something 

    or get nothing at all. Either way, she had to leave.
    And Oma took everything she could fit in a suitcase
    rather than take anything Nazi. And she ended 

    up in New York and her mom ended in Theresienstadt
    or Auschwitz, we’ll never know. And as I double back
    past the Monte Carlo I look up to see if the French Jew 

    is still there, but I can’t even see remnants of smoke
    testifying he even existed. Was he there at all?
    Was He? And I think of how there are no more 

    Kahns living in Germany. Puff—some mirrors
    and smoke trick—and I wonder what my Grandfather
    would or wouldn’t say in between puffs of his pipe, 

    at what it’s like to be a Jew in Paris or one standing
    alone on the roof of a hotel in Miami Beach
    as clouds slow-march over waves that billow 

    and billow towards some kind of safe shore.


    by Peter Kahn


    The Poetry Centre has just launched its International Poetry Competition for 2020! We’re delighted to say that our judge this year is the Forward Prize-winning poet Fiona Benson. As always, we have two categories: Open and English as an Additional Language. The winners receive £1000, with £200 for the runners up. For more details and to enter, visit our website

    The Centre also recently launched the online publication of the e-anthology ‘My teeth don’t chew on shrapnel’: an anthology of poetry by military veterans. This anthology features exciting, moving, and provocative work by US and UK veterans who were participants in workshops held by the Poetry Centre in 2019-20 and also includes writing about veterans and some writing prompts. The anthology is free to download from the Poetry Centre website and we would very much welcome your feedback! E-mail us or fill out the short form on the site.

    ‘On top of the Monte Carlo' is copyright © Peter Kahn, 2020. It is reprinted from Little Kings (Nine Arches Press, 2020) by permission of Nine Arches Press. You can read more about the book here. Peter will be launching the book virtually with Nine Arches on 24 June at 7.30pm and you can attend by visiting this link.

    Peter Kahn’s debut collection Little Kings is an astonishing book of astute and deeply humane poetry, one which seeks to find in both teaching and learning a common ground, and between longing and belonging an equilibrium. Intuitive and wise, Kahn’s poems remain compelling even when exploring those places where there is ‘no vocabulary for what might happen’. Little Kings encompasses stories of the Jewish diaspora and of American life, interweaving narratives of escape and refuge, of yearning and absence. Some of these poems ricochet with the magnitude of loss and violence, with lives interrupted, half-lived, or vanished. Anchoring these poems is their immense grace and lyricism, and Kahn’s great skill in tenderly carrying memory and experience into our shared understanding. Find out more about the book here and listen to Peter read some poems from it here.

    Peter Kahn is a founding member of the London poetry collective Malika’s Kitchen. He has twice been a commended poet in the Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition. A co-founder of the London Teenage Poetry Slam, Peter also founded the Spoken Word Education Training Programme as a Visiting Fellow at Goldsmiths University. Now based in Chicago, he holds an MA in English Education from The Ohio State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University.

    Since its founding in 2008, Nine Arches Press has published poetry and short story collections (under the Hotwire imprint), as well as Under the Radar magazine. In 2010, two of our pamphlets were shortlisted for the Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlet prize and Mark Goodwin's book Shod won the 2011 East Midlands Book Award. In 2017, All My Mad Mothers by Jacqueline Saphra was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize. Our titles have also been shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Prize, and in 2016 David Clarke's debut poems, Arc, was longlisted for the Polari Prize. To date we have published over ninety poetry publications. Read more about the press here and follow Nine Arches on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

    Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.