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How do we transform the wreckage of our identities? Cynthia Dewi Oka’s evocative collection answers this question by brimming with what we salvage from our most deep-seated battles. Reflecting the many dimensions of the poet’s life, Salvage manifests an intermixture of aesthetic forms that encompasses multiple social, political, and cultural contexts—leading readers to Bali, Indonesia, to the Pacific Northwest, and to South Jersey and Philadelphia.
Throughout it insistently interrogates what it means to reach for our humanity through the guises of nation, race, and gender. Oka’s language transports us through the many bodies of fluid poetics that inhabit our migrating senses and permeate across generations into a personal diaspora. Salvage invites us to be without borders.
About the Author
CYNTHIA DEWI OKA is the author of Nomad of Salt and Hard Water. Originally from Bali, Indonesia, she is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a recipient of the Fifth Wednesday Journal Editor’s Prize in Poetry as well as grants from the Leeway Foundation and Vermont Studio Center. Oka is an alumnus of Voices of Our Nations (VONA) and her work has appeared in the anthologies Dismantle, Read Women, and Revolutionary Mothering. She is based in the greater Philadelphia area, where she works as a community organizer with immigrant and faith communities.
“Salvage is a necessary collection of poems that steadily pushes us not only to witness our world and surroundings, but to engage with both the stunning and the brutal, to hold both the dirt and the beauty, to oscillate between the guttural and the want, and to look so deeply at love and how it can sometimes erupt and feel broken – how to keep honoring it.” –Ellen Hagan, author of Hemisphere: Poems
"So much beauty is made from sorrow in this book, while silence 'swarms like beetles.' Here is an escape from 'our slanderous past taking / root in potholed sidewalks,' and here also the litany of arrival in North American suburbia, where Orpheus is mugged in the city of brotherly love and even Lazarus reconsiders his awakening. This book gives us both the refugee's map of North America and a window to the world beyond. I love this book's invention, as Dewi Oka summons up the courage to rage and grieve: 'Let memory make of me a scream that wasn't there.' What a powerful plea! I love the many kinds of tenderness on these pages, Dewi Oka's attentiveness to detail, the wonderful gift of seeing poetry in the custodial, in the tragic: so even if tears come, they are 'like small stubborn / gods refusing to fall.' I love the mythical depth, the civic outcry, the lyric inventiveness of these poems. But most of all, I love how how beautifully music is made patiently from the sorrow, how a human 'holds his breath, secretly / chains to a single note all the mutinies inside him--'. A powerful book. –Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa
"The gods of poetry occasionally are lavish with their gifts, choosing to endow a writer with special access to their mysteries: Cynthia Dewi Oka is such a one, a migrant whose powerful poems embody and defy history’s savage dislocations. From a world lost where 'houses/ shudder like goats at the stockyard' to the irony of 'a land where milk and honey can sweeten fear,' her depth-charged vision is a seemingly inexhaustible source of eloquent, revelatory images." –Eleanor Wilner
"Cynthia Dewi Oka's work is full of 'the kind of beauty that incinerates/the shelter of the body,' bringing it (us) closer to the wall-less wilds where every thing is kin. She reminds us that 'to salvage' is to, with profound effort, transform loss into possibility. In this way, the poems are species of invention and surrender, ceremonies of memory and reckoning. Over and over I am surprised by a diction this lucid, this precise, this feral. No one else writes like this. –Aracelis Girmay
"We are in the thick of the sludge of salvage, in an age of greedy locusts who are making plans to own and suck down anything they perceive of value. Add vitriolic race hate verbiage, and visionaries are bound to emerge. Cynthia Dewi is one of these visionaries, a word prophet. She writes with one foot in time, the other in timelessness. These poems in her newest collection Salvage are small fires to light the way. They are lit by urgent need. With these poems, we will make it through." –Joy Harjo