AMANDA [NGOHO] REAVEY Reviews
Handiwork by Amaranth Borsuk
(Slope Editions, New Hampshire / New York / Massachusetts, 2012)
Amaranth Borsuk’s first book, Handiwork, winner of the 2011 Slope Editions Book Prize, is constraint-based writing in its finest. By using the Jewish practice of gematria, in which a numerical value is assigned to a letter, word or phrase, Borsuk creates a lyrical, yet haunting work. In the notes section at the end of the book, Borsuk reveals that her grandmother’s “unpublished autobiographical stories illuminate” the text.
“She asked me to tell her story
but I couldn’t because I was in it”
Each page slices open an unpublished, faded history interpolated with gaps. There are gaps and there are layers within those gaps.
“Imagine that landscape: a place
where landscape escapes: a hole”
How do you traverse these landscapes? How do you reach into a faded history?
“Tell us about
I am intrigued.
What do these fragments, or rather, the gaps between them, these lines, reveal? What can and cannot be said? Borsuk writes, “Some things the hand refuses/ to put to paper.” A disembodied (dissociated) hand. And refusal. Resistance. Yet there is a wanting, a desire “to tear the skin from my body/ and completely reveal myself.” I imagine an invisible ink on a blank page. This tug and pull, and pressure on language—a “pressure preventing speech”—reveals loss. The limits of language. How a fragment can reveal a story, but the grammar fails to full capture it. Yet, in the attempt, the hand lets go of “definition, order, complicity” and finds “itself unbound.”
“ [language no one spoke]
[opened its wounds] ”
It reminds me of a different poem I once read about how the heart is a desert and how words break it open.
Ngoho’s work appears or is forthcoming in Construction Literary Magazine, TAYO and The Volta. She blogs at www.spaceinsideborderline.com.