Work Title: Convertible Night, Flurry of Stones
Work Author(s): Dzvinia Orlowsky
Carnegie Mellon University Press
80 Pages, Softcover $14.95
Reviewer: Melanie Drane
Psychoanalyst and Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl described human existence as a search for meaning. He noted that in the absence of meaning, man becomes susceptible to despair, a condition inimical to life. Through words, human beings possess the power to articulate experience that would otherwise remain merely an incoherent jumble of events. To discern meaning in times of profound rupture is a fundamentally creative act---and an insistence on survival. In this way, literature and writing often serve as life-affirming, urgent resources, especially amidst crisis.
Dzvinia Orlowsky's latest book, Convertible Night, Flurry of Stones, inhabits this potent domain: it is the poetry of survival. With dark lyricism, Orlowsky reports back from doctors' waiting rooms, the radiation chamber, and the hospital night shift---the stations that mark her journey through breast cancer. A founding editor of Four Way Books, Orlowsky is the author of three previous poetry volumes. Her translation from the Ukranian of Alexander Dovzhenko's novella, The Enchanted Desna, was published by House Between the Water Press in 2006. She has taught at numerous creative writing programs, including the Mt. Holyoke Writers' Conference, Emerson College, and Pine Manor College.
According to an African proverb, "The blessing lies next to the wound." Orlowsky's work is charged by this volatile, uncomfortable paradox in which trauma and transformation live side-by-side. Her poems unfurl in a winter landscape of illness, where the boundaries blur in half-light between injury and grace, grief and wonder---as in "Listening to Schumann's Piano Concerto," where she writes: "We wear our jewels for the afternoon, / startle birds with the immensity / of our human shadows."
Like fairytales, the poems in this collection are at once magic, lyrical, and earthy. Images of hair and blood recur, evoking an unpredictable wilderness of body and spirit. Where illness threatens to confine, Orlowsky resists entrapment, instead moving toward a larger sense of the world and self. In "Losing My Hair," she remembers: "I carried some strands to the woods, / spread them on the ground / for the birds to lift / into their nests." A clump of her fallen hair is "like a small animal" she sets loose among the trees...