Poppy poet preaches self-empowerment
The founder of the Yellow Door poetry series launches her first book
Ilona Martonfi’s Blue Poppy is a rallying cry against oppression. GRAPHIC VIVIEN LEUNG
Ilona Martonfi considers herself a poet-activist.
While her first book of poetry, Blue Poppy, might initially read like the dirge of a brutal marriage, the subject matter changes meaning in light of her activism.
“I am talking about freedom,” said Mortonfi. “Freedom from violence, wherever it takes place.”
The lines of each poem are laced with images of vibrant flowers and fruit trees, weaving paradoxically through an often stark portrayal of living as a battered wife. Textures of brick and handstitched linen underpin the recounting of a war baby’s childhood in Central Europe.
Martonfi says she communicates complex ideas of abuse, death, love and escape not for herself, but to expose those subjects to the light.
“I just want to be a voice and guess what?” she said. “The first thing I get at the women’s shelter [after leaving my husband] is a book to write in.”
After decades of isolation as a refugee—and then as the victim of an abusive relationship—Martonfi said she sought a sense of community. Montreal’s poetry and spoken word scene satisfied this need, and she in turn has nurtured the poetry community. Eleven years ago, she founded the regular poetry readings at the Yellow Door, then later the Visual Arts Centre poetry events and the annual Lovers and Others readings, making Martonfi a central figure of the spoken word community of Montreal.
Considering how active she has been over the years it might seem surprising that Blue Poppy is only her first book. But her years of writing experience have made it a well crafted and emotionally charged debut.
The book was a long time in the making, but she says she’s not ready to take a break. Some of the themes Martonfi says she plans to explore in her future works may be more removed from her own experiences, but are still in line with her mission to expose oppression, isolation and suffering.
“The death threats were so serious,” Martonfi recalled, relating some of the abuses she suffered in her years of silence to what others continue to experience around the world. “That affects a person, so no wonder I have to speak so loud. I have come to see why I need to be an activist.”
Blue Poppy is for sale at The Word Bookstore (469 Milton St.), Argo Book Shop (1915 Ste-Catherine St. W.) and online at coraclepress.com.