In Out-patients, Elisabeth Murawski transforms the vulnerabilities of our bodies into poetry, her precise lines evoking hospitals and cemeteries, malignancies and bomb blasts, The birth of a child prefigures its end: “this life / slated to be brief / as a poem.” These poems confront our inevitabilities.
Elisabeth Murawski received the 2010 May Swenson Poetry Award for her collection Zorba’s Daughter, which will be published by the Utah State University Press. She is the author of Moon and Mercury and a chapbook, Troubled by an Angel. Her poetry has appeared in The Yale Review, The New Republic, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Ontario Review, The Literary Review, Field, Chelsea, Southern Review, Margie, and others. Her poem “Abu Ghraib Suggests the Isenheim Altarpiece” won the 2006 Ann Stanford Prize. She was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2008. She resides in Alexandria, VA.
I would call these dry-eyed, uncompromising poems dark, but they are shot through with light: the lay-everything-bare fluorescent light of hospitals, the cold clarity of winter mornings, the revealing flash of photography. (This collection contains one of the only successful poems I have seen to come out of the onslaught of images from the Iraq War, “Abu Ghraib Suggests the Isenheim Altarpiece.”) While never flinching or turning away from the unsightly decrepitude of our mortality, Murawski with her poet’s eye can also transform an aging mother scrubbing a Corningware coffee pot into a sun-flooded masterpiece by Vermeer. Among the out-patients here—the sufferers and caregivers, the dead and their survivors—we meet prodigal sons, snake handlers, “a Palestinian St. Joan,” widowers and would-be suicides, and Keats himself, slowly drowning of tuberculosis in a room in Rome whose gilded ceiling is carved with daisies. Murawski works in a hard-won, spare and nimble free verse, but also writes a mean sonnet (as the Keats-answering, “Darien.”) Against the frailty of the body, she posits the stubborn strength of the spirit: “We push back death/ like a cowlick/ hoping it will hold/ for the time being.”
Elisabeth Murowski’s poems find their way into unexpected, inexplicable rooms where what you thought you knew has left directions for its burial. She is a lyric compressionist of the first order and full of dark surprises.
Boldly, Murawski begins at the point of crisis and allows it to be a place of clearing. There is renewal to be found in these pages. Murawski has us looking in on patients, seeing them in sharper relief than we might have before. Suffering is Murawski’s subject of choice, but she understands it to be multi-faceted and emotionally polymorphous. In weakness, Murawski finds the opportunity for meditation.
—The Pedestal Magazine
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