Ama­ranth Borsuk
  • Review
By – January 22, 2014

Ama­ranth Borsuk’s first book, win­ner of the 2011 Slope Edi­tions Book Prize, employs and riffs on cen­turies-old for­mal devices, like gema­trias and old Eng­lish verse form. The pres­ence of such antique forms con­tributes to the sense of exca­va­tion through­out Hand­i­work

Borsuk’s notes at the back of the book ded­i­cate it to the her grand­moth­er, whose unpub­lished auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal sto­ries illu­mi­nate” these poems, Bor­suk explains. But Bor­suk does not intro­duce specifics of her grandmother’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy into these poems. A tru­ly post­mod­ern poet, she is more inter­est­ed in what is impos­si­ble to con­vey — spaces or his­to­ries so fad­ed they might not exist at all — than in what can or should be con­veyed. Imag­ine that land­scape: a place / where land­scape escapes,” she writes in His­tory of Myth.” Even in imag­i­na­tion land­scape undoes itself. These are words I did not under­stand / when I learned them, a combina­tion tone,” Bor­suk writes in His­to­ry of Song.” The speak­er is telling a nar­ra­tive that has nev­er been told — the sto­ry of an indi­vid­ual with­in the wide and well-known swell of more famil­iar sto­ries: Our / books begin ground, pressed, / but nev­er men­tion / this bruised his­to­ry, erased” (“Paper Ele­gy”). The poem In Which Things That Hurt Us Are Stored For Win­ter,” which fol­lows the accen­tu­al-syl­lab­ic rules of Mid­dle Eng­lish prosody, plugs into the here and now by incor­po­rat­ing mod­ern forms of speech that would be famil­iar to any Face­book user (“Wow, Wow, Wow, oh wow, aha — ”). 

The brief, pris­mat­ic gema­trias that appear through­out are some of the book’s most frag­ment­ed poems, and they help estab­lish Borsuk’s post­mod­ern set of con­cerns. They express a self or selves or voic­es assert­ing them­selves, delib­er­ate­ly, across space and time. Time and space here mean not only the real-life past and present — Holo­caust-era Europe, present day Amer­i­ca — that the book seeks to depict, but also metapo­et­i­cal con­cerns, like the white space of the page and the time it takes to read the book. Deep but fad­ed mean­ings seem to glim­mer at the edge of these poems, but they remain elu­sive to the read­er or even the speak­er. Through the bur­dens and gifts of her many con­straints, Bor­suk seeks, some­times excit­ed­ly, some­times resigned­ly, to expose or exca­vate those meanings.

Lucy Bie­der­man is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of cre­ative writ­ing at Hei­del­berg Uni­ver­si­ty in Tif­fin, Ohio. Her first book, The Wal­mart Book of the Dead, won the 2017 Vine Leaves Press Vignette Award.

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