“In What We Take With Us, Susan Nusbaum maps our way home, always unflinchingly aware of those problems never solved, the justice never found, and the way loss too often just begets more loss. And yet she never forgets the grace of our ‘glittering strand of flame-bright days,’ our time spent contemplating the ordinary and extraordinary, tending gardens or a dying husband in need, listening to music or searching for lions in Botswana. These are wonderful poems that demonstrate a love of craft, especially in their command of syntax and the free verse line, and quietly declare a deeply lived, highly self-aware life. Over and over, the poems draw us into the mystery of blessing and destruction that the paradoxically sufficient and insufficient world offers.”
—Robert Cording, author of Walking with Ruskin
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“If poetry is an act of preservation, Susan Dworski Nusbaum’s What We Take With Us is exhibit A in its documentation of an American woman’s life that is fully lived in its spectrum of passions, from reaching back to its immigrant ancestry—filled with bittersweet and wistful old world resonances—to its external and internal travels, to its courageous and passionate poems of mature love, heartbreak, and transformations. What we take with us, in turns out, is orchestral in its multi-vocal tones and tropes. Nusbaum’s voice, in the tradition of Alicia Ostriker and Marge Piercy, is expansive and skillful, preserving her sacred people and places, yet compassionate in its empathic reach into often-ignored others. A voice this large is rare indeed. But what I take most with me in my reading of this extraordinary collection is the way in which it embodies a life that is wholly mature and completely realized or, in the posture of her grandson Matthew’s fourth grade photo: ‘ready to take it all on.’ ”
—Philip Terman, author of The Torah Garden
“I respond so much to the moving and finely crafted poems of Susan Dworski Nusbaum’s remarkable debut collection, What We Take With Us—poems that ‘overflow the silence[s]’ of a richly lived and keenly perceived life. Whether she is imagining two husbands meeting in heaven, the tremors of Haiti—the ripple effects remind us of our own “power failure[s]”—or the sadness of unused things, Nusbaum displays a diamond-cutter’s wit and an empathetic intelligence. Yet no matter her subject, Nusbaum’s work is always about singing ‘the sublime music/Mother herself might have performed if she hadn’t interrupted/her singing career/to do the ironing.’ If, in the end, ‘Love triumphs,’ it is ‘through the ecstasy of [her] music’ in ‘memory’s filtered light.’ Of course, the poet herself summons us best when she says: ‘Now I serve it to you, my love./Eat.’ At a feast as generous and nourishing as this, why wouldn’t we?”
—Rick Hilles, author of Map of the Lost World
Through the prisms of love and loss, memory, individual narratives, and the natural world, this collection of poems celebrates the bounty of life—ordinary human experience as an act of discovery. Our daily encounters with the world, universal and particular, are what breathe life into us—what we take with us and ultimately leave behind. The poems examine the common landmarks of our lives, “the careful threads that hold us together,” joy and suffering, passions and disappointments, the search for identity, complexities of nature, growth and decline, the paradoxes of reality. Meaningful gifts abound in the small and often astonishing details which serve to define the human condition.
Born in Rochester, NY, Susan Dworski Nusbaum received her BA from Smith College and her law degree from the University of Buffalo Law School. She lives in Buffalo, N.Y., where she has worked as a teacher, arts administrator, and most recently as a criminal prosecutor. She has been a frequent participant in the Chautauqua Institution Writers’ Festival and Chautauqua Writers’ Center poetry workshops, and has served on the Board of the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Connecticut Review, Poetry East, Nimrod International Journal, Chautauqua Literary Journal, Chautauqua, Harpur Palate, Wisconsin Review, The Sow’s Ear, Earth’s Daughters, Artvoice, and The Buffalo News. Her manuscript, What We Take With Us was a finalist in the 2014 Brittingham/Pollack Prize Competition, University of Wisconsin Press. Click here to find Susan online.
Keep reading for two excerpts:
Things so tucked away I can’t reclaim them,
folded into the creases of my brain,
not lost but abandoned, useless as desire
for romance, for foolish extravagance,
useless as sweet nostalgia for the
luminous coral roses of Katmandu.
—From “The Sadness of Unused Things”
How thrilling the contest we loved as children,
taking in as much as the lungs could hold, gasping
and diving, eardrums pounding, overtaken by clouds
of silverfish swaying with the current, paddling fast
before the air ran out, to surface covered with salt
ready to plunge again into the dark water.
—From “The Length of a Breath”