Stalking the Writer’s Life. Celebrating Dzvinia Orlowsky
Here’s how I’ m avoiding writing about my new book, Love, Sex and 4-H this week. Yes, still avoiding, but I’ll get to that story of the story of how I broke my nose a week before the modeling competition. Yes, I will. Soon.
But first. More celebrating favorite poems and poets! A poet I have always adored for her spare and fierce poems, full of precisely honed passion, is Dzvinia Orlowsky. Her first book, Handful of Bees, is already a Carnegie-Mellon classic—how does that work—it’s a classic already? Wow. But that tells you the ilk of these poems. Besides being a first rate poet who moves me every time I hear her poems, she is warm and lovely and full of good will. Dzvinia always asks, with real interest, about my writing. It’s such a gift when someone you respect asks that question with the intent that let’s you know her question is not perfunctory; she wants to know. And when she can, she helps. When I thought my collection of poems, Uncoded Woman, was dying of neglect, she made a list of ideas on how it might be remarketed (Wow again!). And she was the poet who thought to put it on her reading list for her college class. I couldn’t be more grateful. She’s like that.
So a fine poet, writer, and friend, yes, all true, but then at the Solstice MFA residency at Pine Manor College, she read from new translations of a Polish poet, Mieczyslaw Jastrun. Translations too? Maybe it was her voice, maybe it was the poems, or maybe it was the power of translation, but I was simply taken in. I know translations take an enormous amount of work because the poet is remaking a form that holds great art and beauty in its original language, but must be transformed in its new language. To retain its intention but give its new language richness and literary complexity is a challenge that leaves me in awe. But for Dzvinnia, it’s again an endeavor of discovery, meticulous attention and creativity—which continues that long slow passion of precision. Dzvinia and Jeff Friedman worked in deep concentration on Memorials: A Selection and it shows. The poems, which appear in both languages on the pages of the book, sound as beautiful when she speaks the Polish as when she speaks them in English. They are what they were, and she and Jeff have made them more. Here’s a favorite for these winter days.
Slowly branches gather
wverything you’ve lost.
I am here—only the day is sighted.
But is it seen clearly?
And I can even see the needles
left by someone from another time.
On a walking path,
I follow the rain for a thousand years…
A tree without leaves,
stripped at great cost
sees more clearly the space around it.
When I read this, I sink into that metaphor of the personified tree. Melancholy, yes, I suppose, but if given the chance, perhaps we do see better after loss, when we are stripped of identity. The poem speaks to me of resilience and, in these dark times of winter and various shifts toward the minimal, I find that comforting. Thank you Dzvinia and Jeff, for bringing that poem to my hands and eyes, and for these translations.
And now I have successfully avoided writing about my new book Love, Sex and 4-H for one more week.