Risa Denenberg’s what we owe each otheris a series of poems that stun with their straightforwardness and stark beauty. She tends, in the strongest possible sense of that verb, to a friend, Jon, who is dying in agony. When we close her book which is, first and last, his book too, we need to know his name. Jon has been her teacher as well as her friend. Their book is made up of the lessons he has taught her and she, in turn, is teaching us, “what we owe each other.” The poems in what we owe each other are what I hope for when I read poetry. More than that, they are what hope is for. They are cause for rejoicing.
William Slaughter, Author of Untold Stories and The Politics of My Hearts, Editor of Mudlark, An Electronic Journal of Poetry and Poetics
I’ve been a fan of Risa Denenberg’s poetry for some years because each time I encounter one of her poems, I feel stronger afterwards, more trusting, perhaps, more resolved. Each of us is on a separate journey (each leading to the same result), and yet we vary in our levels of resolve and our ability to give voice to how we feel. It doesn’t take long before she reassures “what is needed is uttered without words.” Denenberg knows we are, each of us, alone. And yet she shares with us the notes from her own journey, and for this I am grateful and for this, I will keep this chapbook on my favorite bookshelf at home.
Risa Denenberg’s incisive and moving chapbook, what we owe each other, implies that belated contemplation of the event of a death is necessary to reveal who and what might reconcile us to life’s temporal configuration. These poems are prayers to assist the living, for they transform dying from an incoherent series of unrelated events and symptoms linked by the fiction of an autonomous deteriorating body into a narrative. The “this” that Denenberg’s collection of poems acknowledges, our spirit and the flesh, can only remain vital if it recognizes and contends with attachment as debt to the dead and living.
Debra Levine, Assistant Professor of Theatre, NYU Abu Dhabi