“The lyrical voice of Natalka Bilotserkivets rings, strong and pure, through several generations of Ukrainian poetry, from the Soviet censorship and Chornobyl, to the joys and losses of post-independence. In Eccentric Days of Hope and Sorrow we get to witness a lifelong bewilderment that transforms the historical into the intimate, with tender and meticulous precision. These poems balance thought and emotion on the scales of linguistic music, beautifully captured in English by Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky. Bilotserkivets is a poet capable of taking us from the 20th into the 21st century, through the darkness of old and new losses, with the strength refined into grace.”
– Judges’ Citation, Griffin International Poetry Prize
“When translating you need to be courageous; you also need to be adventurous with your own languages; you need this fearlessness to retune the poem’s sound and rearrange the poem’s architecture. Fondly and respectfully trespassing the originals, the duet Kinsella and Orlowsky managed to effectively introduce a significant contemporary woman’s voice hailing from Ukraine.”
– Ostap Kin, World Literature Today
“Like a hornet caught in a jar,” there is our world buzzing inside Orlowsky’s prose poems, buzzing between words, yes, but also between silences. I started reading with these prose poems and couldn’t stop. And then: opened the village of her lyrics, where line-breaks’ “bulging veins” throb to a music all their own. Here, the streets are flecked with images, “with feather and bone.” Orlowsky’s is a world where the poet blesses all that is “washed with saliva,” all that has a “pinch of salt.” With these poems, the boring prose of reality we all want to escape is “buried in a wake of hoofs.” But what is this poet’s wisdom? Orlowsky looks back on this village of her days: “Remember it,” she says, “for its silence / the hill where you staked your life.“ And what, exactly, do we take from it? She shows how to go on: “Thank you doctor, / it must be so, each bone depleted– / each wish revealed.” It is, indeed, revealing, beautiful work.”
– Ilya Kaminsky
Dzvinia Orlowsky’s sixth book, Bad Harvest, is the book that stakes her claim to an oeuvre, her own territory in American letters. Orlowsky’s voice is stunningly intimate, perhaps because these poems really look outward. Grounded in the funkiness of family love, marriage, the body in time, they turn to face history—our contemporary vortex, and the nightmares of Eastern Europe in the twentieth century.
– D. Nurkse
“Dzvinia Orlowsky has more than chronicled the life of a child born of the beautiful, horrific, and violent soil of Ukraine. She has, in her collection, grafted two worlds, sown the seeds of one language and created a complete world, peopled with hungry women, angry men, icons, dirt, hunks of manure / flecked with feather and bone . . . The genetics of hunger, mutated by American culture—Lord Taylor, Elvis Presley—travel throughout the body, which remembers trauma, but also, how to be reborn. Bad Harvest is a living object, a book of movement, unafraid to hear, mourn, and finally understand this other language beneath the hruden—frozen lumps of snow and earth . . .”
– Jennifer Martelli, Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices
“The title of Dzvinia Orlowsky’s sixth book, Bad Harvest, evokes the Holodomor, the man-made famine that affected and killed millions across the grain-producing Ukraine during Soviet occupation, presumably including Orlowsky’s forebears. In fact, the book begins with a series of prose poems and poems with longer, looser lines, as if indicating a history too full of uncertainty to balance in even the most carefully wrought poetic line. Often they are parables presented as family lore, stories passed rhythmically, musically, memorably, not just about the history of family in the Ukraine, but about her parents, who would become immigrants in the U.S.”
– Valerie Duff-Strautmann, Salamander
There is a great sorrow in these later poems of the remarkable Polish poet and translator, Mieczysław Jastrun, whose great mastery of form and metaphysical thought are apparent throughout. The beauty of these spare lines and images both surprise and deepen the mystery of his complete engagement with experience: “Chrysanthemums, purple/with anger, almost disappeared in shadow,” “the cup extinguishes the drinker,” he writes. Experience for Jastrun was a matter of faith as well as intimate revelation, ot to mention survival. These are truly extraordinary poems. Hats off to their translators, who have somehow managed to bring forth both his “cold fire” and “tree of sorrow/rooted deep in my heart.”
– Philip Schultz
Orlowsky and Friedman render Mieczysław Jastrun into a new idiom, a third language in order to convey the inexplicable. As in the theological definition of translation as an act of miraculous displacement, these translations transform and enthrall the originals. In these wild, extravagant lines, I feel humanity, I feel faith.
– Ewa Chrusciel
Where does the sacred live? Dzvinia Orlowsky’s newest book of poems, Silvertone, locates the sacred in that dangerous interior space where the windows are made of memory and the door of desire. Its threshold is a cherished object. Its music is made with words. This collection strings together a series of lyric narratives, many of which build upon the totemic quality of personal belongings: an old guitar, a miniature icon of the Virgin Mother, a father’s shotgun — their size and shape do not matter. What matters is their history, real and imagined. This I remember, says one line, this you imagined, calls back another. This I endured, this I have let go, like a dream from its sleeper.
– Miriam O’Neal, Ragazine
I love Dzvinia Orlowsky’s new poems in Silvertone for how clean and uncluttered they are, as well as for the unmitigated faith she illustrates for a thing said straight, a love of words that is deep and enduring and unwavering in its honesty. Perhaps her most important subject is the many layered pathology of family, especially as it alludes to her own Easter European heritage, steeped as it was with a rich mythology of culture that elevates the best of these poems to the level of our highest artistic expression. These beautifully sustained narratives are the poems of a mature and accomplished voice, a singer of songs necessary for us to live most fully.
– Bruce Weigl
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.
– Melanie Drane, ForeWord Magazine
Dzvinia Orlowsky’s new book is full of the gift of life—its preciousness, its frailty, and the duende too. She’s unwilling to sentimentalize, to patch over the difficult: she steadfastly resists the tawdry willful cheeriness that passes for transcendence. In “Sexual Water,” Pablo Neruda says “Like an eye held hideously open,” and I think, yes, this is the purpose of poetry: to look, to attend, to inhabit fully. In the white spaces between stanzas, in her attentive eye for original and un-invented images, in her dark ironic wit, Orlowsky has draw her poems close to the heart: teeming, damaged, defended, and broken—which is to say, fully human.
– Ira Sadoff
Dzvinia Orlowsky’s lyric gift has enabled her to create a multi-dimensional tapestry that both weaves and unweaves language, softens and roughens it, and generates a vision of life that bedazzles and clarifies. I find this work paradoxical in that what is simply rendered in the poem gives rise, nonetheless, to the texture of complex experience-living in a climate, a weather, a historical moment, a culture, being the child of parents, the parents of children, owning a body subject both to joy and pain, capable of making us helpless or non-existent—somehow that’s all caught here. It’s the poemness of poetry, or the magic of poetry—whatever it is, Orlowsky’s got it.
– Gray Jacobik
Originally published in 1994 by Carnegie Mellon University Press, this book has been republished as a classic by Carnegie Mellon and is truly a classic … Even through the poems on life with immigrant parents, there is a stark, visible yearning. The world of home and the world outside and the conflict of the two coexist. A situation that many Americans of any ethnicity can immediately grasp … A Handful of Bees is immediately personal, international, and filtered through the prism of the heart, these poems come forth universally. Dzvinia Orlowsky films a screenplay for intuition.
– Mike Amado, Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene
Widely acknowledged as one of the greatest film directors of all time, Dovzhenko was also an important literary stylist whose lyrical prose has remained largely unknown to readers outside Ukraine. Dzvinia Orlowsky’s subtle and nuanced translation leaves the reader feeling his story was born speaking English.
– Askold Melnyczuk
These stories are at once lusty, earthy, vivd—and infused with shape-shifting volatility and mysticism. Dzvinia Orlowsky has captured a voice that is both plainspoken and full of awe.
– Melanie Drane
What is moving about Orlowsky’s poetry is the manner in which she moves us through her images. Her poems progress like silent films that show the entire universe, then a galaxy, then a star, then a planet, then an organism, then an atom, then an explosion, although not necessarily in that order. There is an element of randomness, of transmitting events and thoughts as they happen, of moving from vastness to the finite; perhaps this accounts for the freshness, the beautiful brutality of Orlowsky’s poetry.
– Jenny Boully, Maisonneuve
At a time when so much contemporary poetry relies on either disjointed sonic fireworks or detached intellectualism to convince the reader of its merits, Orlowsky’s new work is deliberately a little flat and deals with everyday events in a voice that is deceptively straightforward . . . The best poems describe a kind of stasis between a drab, everyday world and an erotic, often bizarre fantasy life. In the process, they imply complex, often buried narratives, challenging the reader to solve them, to put them together like little puzzles.
– Kevin Pufer, American Book Review, 25th Anniversary
Dzvinia Orlowsky’s new poems, unabashedly carnal and spiritual, bring me face to face with the human struggle to befriend the strangeness of being here. In reading this book I had the most vivid sensation that I was being allowed to look inside a woman’s head and soul in a way I don’t think I have ever experienced.
– Franz Wright
Brilliant, erotic—nobody gives it to us with quite the direct bravery of Dzvinia Orlowsky. The energy in these poems is irrepressible, irresistible. Poem after poem gives the reader more life. And there is a powerful music working through these tender, vicious poems.
– Stephen Berg
Weeks after I’d first Dzvinia Orlowsky’s Except for one Obscene Brushstroke, images from several of the poems would stop me in parking lots, give me pause in the supermarket. That’s the bittersweet power of Ms. Orlowsky’s fearsome gift of clarity—the words sink deep and then haunt.
– Dennis Lehane
The Four Way Reader 2
Four Way Books, 2001
(edited by Carlen Arnett, Jane Brox, Dzvinia Orlowsky, Martha Rhodes)
“It’s all here: the polished candlesticks, wrapped, unused in the silver closet. The skeleton keys, family portrais, and trantrums of childhood . . . There’s a subversive scribbler named Burdyk, and adventurer, Carlitos. A woman putting on lipstick in a parked car’s side mirror … Our pleasure as editors comes as much from rereading these poems and stories as from gathering them together in the first place. These are works of heft and elegance, ricochet and grace—lively voices ranging widely across subject matter and style.”
– Carlen Arnett
The Four Way Reader 1
Four Way Books, 1995
(edited by Jane Brox, Dzvinia Orlowsky, Martha Rhodes)
“The Four Way Reader began as a search for voices convincing to our own ears, and it eventually found its coherence in the very diversity of the work gathered … Reader #1 is a sampling of the work of ten poets and three prose writers. Some of the writers represented here may be well known to readers. Others’ work is just beginning to be known to a wide audience . . . It’s been an encouraging task to gather these works, sturdy and vital, which underscore Octavio Paz’s assertion: “The poetic word affirms the life of this life.”
– Jane Brox, Dzvinia Orlowsky, Martha Rhodes
Joseph Brodsky, in one of the essays in On Grief and Reason, writes that the twentieth century is the century of the displaced person. Writers in this century more than any other—from James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway to Paul Celan and Czeslaw Milosz to Seamus Heaney and Brodsky himself—have explored the ordeal of abandoning, voluntarily or involuntarily, a home that had become culturally or socially oppressive. Ukrainian-American poet Dzvinia Orlowsky, in Edge of House and Cuban-American poet Aleida Rodriguez, in Garden of Exile, while eschewing the political concerns of many of these writers, similarly draw on the impact of displacement and relocation in their lives to create an art deeply concerned with psychological and emotional boundaries and the sense of a divided self and world that they create. Though Orlowsky’s parents emigrated from Ukraine rather than herself, the legacy of displacement deeply informs Edge of House, her second collection. Orlowsky sees life as constituted by many kinds of boundaries and sees living as consisting in transgressing or respecting these boundaries.
– Robert Levine, Poet Lore
Dzvinia Orlowsky’s poetry is courageous, written with a blunt integrity that enables her to come to terms with a life haunted by a family’s past. She is a poet moving within an alternately barren and beautiful landscape, and a woman struggling to place herself in this landscape. Orlowsky’s writing shares Louise Gluck’s delicate lyrical philosophizing and Sylvia Plath’s often harsh, exacting statements about being a mother and a housewife.
– Nicole Ross, Salt Hill Journal
In Dzvinia Orlowsky’s brilliant new book, daily life is an exacting journey—a drop of water is “immense as sky/immense as itself.” Dark in her clarity, often wildly funny Orlowsky probes the myths of tribe and family, in search of a home for the psyche. She’s a master of the verbal zoom lens who harnesses her virtuosity to the real, the difficult. The poet’s sense of responsibility is profound, “buoyant in entanglement,” and her epihanies are hard-earned, footholds in a world of sheer contingency.
– D. Nurkse
The poems of Dzvinia Orlowsky negotiate matter and spirit with a feisty dreaminess. Wavering between these two worlds, the author of A Handful of Bees inhabits that pre-dawn landscape where wakefulness emerges only to recede, like a herd of horses or an outcropping of firs, into sleep mist. This is a countryside of honest uncertainty.
– Mary Maxwell, AGNI
I’d like to point out for particular mention Orlowsky’s handling of her religious background. Raised in a Ukrainian family, she was brought up to be a practicing Catholic. This subject has been explored by numerous writers, yet few can capture the exquisite pain and confusion of a child struggling with the mystical beliefs forced upon her … Dzvinia Orlowsky’s work shows a great heart, a forgiving soul, and a voice strong enough to carry the exquisite moments she brings to life so well.”
– John Skoyles, Cross Roads: Journal of the Poetry Society of America
Never jagged, Orlowsky’s pure, clean images draw attention to our clumsy, big-handedness; we respect the small dramas exposed in poems that seem almost guardedly to belong to the poet alone. Her subject, the young females’ relationship to her family—especially to older women—is somewhat new in American poetry’s history, and thankfully, is being explored with more frequency.
– Linda V. Russo, The Harvard Review
Dzvinia Orlowsky’s poems may serve, single-handedly, to bring back the New Internationalism, reminding readers how much we need her kind of energetic images, ironic, life-saving wit, prismatic compression, and austere, indecorous, heartfelt diction. Her poems grow out of Herbert, Rozewicz, and Wat, but they’re also American in their intimate laments, and the combination makes them, gratefully, hers.
– Ira Sadoff
Dzvinia Orlowsky has the rare ability to think metaphorically in her poems—one vivid thought/felt thing is followed by another and another and the read is left with the feeling that he/she has experienced something strange, complete, and utterly original. This is a beautiful book.
– Thomas Lux