The Philosophy of Unclean Things, by Rosemarie Dombrowski

Review by Lynn Houston


(Finishing Line Press, 2017)

As editor-in-chief of Five Oaks Press, I should disclose that I published Rosemarie Dombrowski’s first poetry collection, The Book of Emergencies, in 2014. What I loved most about that book is the same element that shows up in her latest collection The Philosophy of Unclean Things published by Finishing Line Press–how life provides an ethnographic symbolism for her art. The Philosophy of Unclean Things is a collection that Rosemarie has jokingly referred to as her “dead bird poems,” and a reader can see why. She makes a lens out of a fascination with decay, with how things inevitably and organically waste away and return—not all at once—to earth. In her previous collection, in which she wrote about the challenges and miracles of raising her autistic son, family life became the site of a tenuous nesting. Here, Dombrowski expands her view—The Philosophy of Unclean Things gathers life, art, and relationships from far and wide, even including the rift between a citizen in her country in a series of poems that explore the psychology of the expatriate, another wonderful kind of dis-ease in Dombrowski’s universe.Similar to The Book of Emergencies, where she is fascinated with the ways that autism puts her bird-like son close to truths, images of birds here act as symbols of beauty, constancy, and hardiness:

I remembered my grandmother telling me
that it was perfectly agreeable to fall in love
with anything that perches
on the branches of a flowering dogwood
because they have exceptional resistance
to disease.

In The Philosophy of Unclean Things, birds even become a symbol of resistance in our global, postmodern world: “Only the birds can disregard / borders, make them invisible / like shifts between time zones / or drops in the ocean floor.”

Dombrowski’s aesthetic marries the best of prose insights with the shock of relevant poetic imagery. Dead things—dead feathered things—work well here to convey not so much a sense of loss, but a comfort in the cyclical nature of life and death.

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