Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Review of Naomi Ruth Lowinsky’s Adagio and Lamentation

(il piccolo editions by Fisher King Press, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-926715-05-6)

It has been a couple of years, since my review of Ed Baker’s Restoration Poems, that I have felt so moved by the prayer that a poem can be and the soul-bearing, soul-reaching prayerbook that is the rare collection such as this.

Lowinsky’s history is complicated and rich. Many of her family members were lost to the concentration camps of World War II Europe. She is the granddaughter of painter Emma Hoffman, whose watercolor of her Berkeley home graces Adagio and Lamentation’s cover. She has endured (more than?) her share of hurt and grief and pain.

And yet these larger circumstances—the mix of tragedy and triumph through the healing that is Art well made and selflessly shared—matter less in the scope of the selections than the Little Things—moments and minor memories; love and its loss; affairs and adjustments.

There is, of course, because of her grandmother’s craft, the taking of inspiration from visual art, but there is also music, and musicality, and, then there are the Words. Because Adagio and Lamentation is oh so rich in words.

The opening poem, “Oma” (her grandmother’s nickname), begins:

I wish you could stop being dead (pg. 1)

And this pull to the ancestors—to know their wisdom, to glean their thoughts, to know their experiences on a level not possible from photographs, and family tales, and history books—informs and strengths every word, every phrase, every poem that comes after.

Along with its artistic inspirations, the collection is rife with religious reference and imagery, woven in such personal and yet Universal terms as to be inviting rather than off-putting to the Outsider, the goyim. There is Invitation here and no Exclusion, perhaps due most of all to the “warts and all” presentation of infidelities and other amorous pursuits.

She paints a total portrait, letting us in, creating levels and passages of insight that elevate the Poem to Prayer, evoked best in the poem “great lake of my mother” (p. 61):

have I told you it’s from you I’ve learned
endurance reflection
how pain crystallized
can create
such radiance

Lowinsky, according to her biography, was not much of a painter, but her placement of words on the page, how they cascade and space themselves for exquisite meaning, makes this hard to believe.
The master work in this Meisterwerk is “what flesh does to flesh,” a poem in five parts. Like the individual scenes of a well-crafted play, this poem, and its interior poems, serves as a microcosm of the rich movement of Adagio and Lamentation, inviting us to celebrate as we meditate; to join in and sit alone to reflect on what is now new through the reading.

For more information on this talented poet, the reader is encouraged to visit www.sisterfrombelow.com

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