Dinah Roma is the author of three award-winning
poetry collections, A Feast of Origins (UST, 2004), winner of the
National Book Award for Poetry in English, Geographies of Light (UST,
2011), and Naming the Ruins (2014, Vagabond Press Sydney).
“The inner need is built up of three mystical elements (1) Every artist, as, a creator, has something in him which calls for expression (this is the element of personality). (2) Every artist, as child of his age, is impelled to express the spirit of his age (this is the element of style) dictated by the period and particular country to which the artist belongs (it is doubtful how long the latter distinction will continue to exist). (3) Every artist, as a servant of art, has to help the cause of art (this is the element of pure artistry, which is constant in all ages and among all nationalities).” Wassily Kandinsky, in Concerning the Spiritual in Art
Dinah Roma’s new poetry collection scales all three of the ‘mystical elements’ of composition. The title of this Four-Part amalgamation of lyrical expositions seem paradoxical. Part one lets the reader into the grim violence etched in national memory and recalled in particular images of ongoing violations of human rights. There’s that danger that one could get numbed by the sheer bombardment of everyday news of gory killings both casual and intended. But this poet will not let us turn our backs away nor forget. The poems disturb us in our comfortable numbness as we watch these things on our screens like they are mere spectacles. Each structure is a performance of a forceful breach of life, engaging us to watch closely, repeatedly, and to go back in history. There is so much at stake not just for the ‘men and women, who wage war against the world’ but for everybody who’s a citizen of this country. The state of the nation is bleak and writing love poems may just have to wait in favor of the prophetic call to ‘See what they see. Until enough is enough. And learn.”
The poet’s personal style is most evident in the songs collected under Parts 2 and 3. Singing life as it happens, recording intimate images of loves as more paradoxes evolve within the dynamics of family relations, friendships, in connections with things and particular places.
This is the song of the mortal heart.
Its compass says Leave now
to where the choices promise
no destination. It will show
you sign posts and footholds
that will tempt you to rest
from the many warfare.
You shall call it by many names
as virtues hold many rhythms:
hope, love, trust, faith.
Let none of these convince
you to stop. Let the altars
by the wayside do what they need
to do for travelers. Offer
what you can offer. But don’t
pray to find the way.
By the Bay Gardens
It could only happen in gardens.
Confessions that tear at the full marrow
of our lives. Intimacies ruptured,
the solitude we guard in our core
alters in our daily attempts at virtue.
How hard it is to speak, how little
suddenly is left of us. Against the day’s zenith,
there is no denial. Only this vintage wine
that laces our tongues with surrender
among these green sunken meadows,
watered constantly for display. Patterns
winnowed for perfection. Our memory
of green woken again to the flora
that attend our age and vocation.
From temperate to tropical, encased
in tempered glasses, flown into cities
manicured to discipline, these blossoms
raging for the open fields.
In Part 4, the collection begins with a seeming impasse in poetry's servanthood of art, about which, the poet casts her doubts:
“I used to think we poets owe
the world beauty. Wizard of words,
I trouble them for the possible.
Until I learned love poems
do not bleed for broken hearts.”
We Shall Write Love Poems Again
And although sometimes, when staring at the spectacular and there’s a chance that one will miss seeing what only the heart can see,
“in time and space, remnants of stories that engulf
in each shift of bright and dark, gifts to poets all
bestowed by the lesson from sorcerer or sage
coming upon a celestial map here on earth
revealing the secret of what it is to stand still,
sharpen one’s vision against the dark,
while our metaphors constellate
into the wide circumference
of the universe.”
It is art which allows the poet to affirm life. More realistically however, even with the prospect of writing love poems again, the heart is deeply attuned to being that is shaped by personal struggles. As a lifetime of enchantment with myths, legends and classical lore has so enriched the poet’s calling as an artist and Dinah Roma writes:
“I owed to neither time nor experience, I do not know.
I moved on from the program licensed to read
meanings out of texts. Through decades of deaths
I had come close to smelling the moment the body
expires. I had come close to grasping the rancor
of weakness and confusion, loss and lust woven
into the wide fabric of galaxies. Andromeda
or the willingness to make sense of nothingness.”
Rereading “Distance to Andromeda”