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Cynthia Dewi Oka

Cynthia Dewi Oka is a poet, mother and community worker. Her poems and essays have appeared in US and Canadian publications including Kweli Journal, 580 Split, Borderline Poetry, Zocalo Poets, Briarpatch Magazine, Leftturn and Generations Literary Magazine.

Blurbs

“Cynthia Oka’s poetry confronts the uncomfortable, the secret, and emerges with verse so sharp, so true, that as a reader it’s impossible not to be galvanized . . . "

– Willie Perdomo

"A feral freedom roams these pages . . . [the book] stuns us with its fierce beauty, instills wonder for what survives the brutality of history, broken, bittersweet, and brilliant."

– Rita Wong

"It’s exciting to read a debut collection that is so strange, so loving, so fierce.”

– Patrick Rosal

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Featured Book

Nomad of Salt and Hard Water

Millions of People Feeling Every Human Emotion

06/23/13

how our tongues

unhooked the vowels of this

language that never dreamt of us.

A fierce testament and testimony, Nomad of Salt and Hard Water is poet Cynthia Dewi Oka’s first collection, published by Dinah Press. It manages to be simultaneously cinematic and intimate, much in the way a large metropolis like Los Angeles or New York City can be — millions of people feeling every human emotion while somehow as a whole, the city is so much larger than the details.

Each poem in Nomad is an important detail in that landscape. While embedded in personal specifics, the poems tell us something about gender, motherhood, abuse, and loss. From “Vulture”:

            because the door bolted

behind rabid eyes  six foot two

            shade of apple blossom  my oesophagus

                        a vice of pink knobbed claws

             so it took three weeks to taste

                                                      sugar again.

As the collection progresses, the reader witnesses introspective moments, self-reflection, and rebirth — invoking strength, solidarity, and beauty. For example, in “Roads to a Dance,” Oka crystallizes a rich, youthful moment:

in the age before

crushes and stilettos,

I made my body

 

silver tambourine,

ready for God’s clap.

Nomad packs a kaleidoscope of impressions into short spaces. It is anchored by persona poems of various nomads — daughter, warrior, oracle, moon, midwife — which take the collection into mythical, archetypal realms, from the “sky where I come from water” to “declaring war on encroaching rock,” to “tongues / of aloe peeled open.”

Throughout, the narrator demonstrates a keen love for herself, a kind of looking back and wishing well while not flinching away from the hard details. It is also framed by reflections on history, especially Indonesian — in the time “before bows and backs were snapped alike” as well as Dutch colonization, Japanese invasion, Sukarno, and Suharto.

Nomad is a litany of survival, a personal dialogue between past and present, and a stirring reflection on histories and legacies.

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