Born in Belarus and now living in the United States, Valzhyna Mort confronts the legacy of violent death in one family in the former Soviet nation of her nativity, conjuring a hallucinogenic ritual of rhythmic remembrance in a world where appeals to virtue and justice have irrevocably failed.
Mort excavates the individual and communal traumas wrought by a violent and repressive national history, and calls herself 'a test-child exposed to the burning reactor of my grandmother’s memory.' Her poetry can be stark in its sorrow and startling in its horror, but it is enlivened with gallows humor and a surreal sensibility.
Central to Valzyhna Mort’s lyrical and at times surreal third book is the question of remembrance, specifically, how to remember and mourn when the state often demands silence ... hauntingly beautiful ... Mort is not simply writing another history of the worst crimes of the past century, she is creating a mythology for how we internalize those crimes at the individual level, and, perhaps, more importantly, the ways in which we both silence, remember, and re-create them as a result ... Mort also colorfully characterizes small town life and its role in creating our personal history ... we live in Mort’s lyric poems, and it is here that her mythologizing genius is most profound ... What is stunning about Mort’s poetry is the way in which she maintains that careful weave of the personal with the historical ... The historical intertwined with the personal, the brutish and inhumane wrapped up in the all-too human, this is the mythology of Valzhyna Mort. A poetry that demonstrates the complexity of human experience.
Music for the Dead and Resurrected is mostly made of leaps: the particulars of the past abrupt the present, but obscured or askew; family stories and images of everyday life are subtended by real or metaphorical burial grounds ... Narratives, images, and motifs recur, but there are lapses and gaps, unfulfilled lexical promises: Mort makes several references to learning music as a child, but a poem titled 'Singer' turns out to be about a sewing machine of that brand. Domestic scenes return: apartments, meals, bus journeys, endless snow. Such mundane scenes fold into one another, become more and more involuted and mysterious ... it evolves in such intricate patterns of metaphor that nothing feels reducible either to autobiography or to straightforward witness. All is dissolved and diverted by (or into) extraordinary images ... Mort’s figural invention takes the poems in more ambiguous directions, amassing an image repertoire that vexes and haunts. So too her formal decisions ... The most striking thing in terms of language and structure is Mort’s tendency to let earlier lines, phrases, or single words return like ghosts from a page or two before, seeming now unsure where they belong.