“The hand can send no messages. Cut off from its
it squirrels sensation away, trusts surface, recalls
Thus isolated, the poem continues as the second stanza begins:
“The Hand has its own phobias to exploit: undesired
short shackling, dogs.”
Emotionally exposed, the third and final stanza begins:
“The hand knows all about manipulation. mainly, it’s
by the sight of its tools in less skilled arms.”
“Blind Contour” and its sister works stand out within a collection of poems that are for the most part explicitly personal, intuitive and looser; perhaps these surprisingly touching, subtly violent poems are meant to be a parable for the collection as a whole. In the third hand poem, “Character Anatomy,” Borsuk writes: “words so readily betray things they’re meant/ to represent.// Arms broken, tissue mangled, the hand was ready to try the body’s cant: a disappearing text, past and future pressed until skin’s plies. Grammar’s ultimate loss// Take take take take take--that’s how the body ensures its own survival.”
“It’s going/ to take me/ a while to get through/ all this salt.”
In the notes to the collection, Borsuk mentions that the book is dedicated to her grandmother, “whose unpublished autobiographical stories illuminate it. The bracketed poems attempt to write through, and into, the gaps of this history.” These few lines are aptly reflective of the spirit of the whole book - they are included to explain, to offer a background. But upon further examination, they broach more questions than the ones they answer. When Borsuk describes her grandmother’s stories as “unpublished,” what is the implication behind the inclusion of that word? Perhaps Borsuk is investigating the distance between “unpublished” and “published” works, something like the distance between the storytelling as written word and storytelling as oral tradition. Is there more weight given to something that has been published? Which belongs to us more within the context of history? The ownership of history seems intriguing in its vagueness.
For a reader, encountering excessive notes or explanations can become burdensome. Some notes are, of course, ethical and necessary—attributions, for example. Some are flourishes, where a reader can be privy to insight behind the creation or production of the poem, and open a direct line to the author himself. Borsuk’s notes are succinct and quiet, certainly not overwhelming the poems, and in the best way, not necessary to enjoying Handiwork. Borsuk’s notes do not have a sense of hand-holding because she manages, through her poetry, to create the sense of writing with and through history. The poems themselves evoke the conversation across generations and culture; the notes simply give a proper noun, a name, for the reader to recognize.
Borsuk’s poems are extremely attractive. Almost every poem is visually satisfying—stimulating but balanced, and never frantic despite its movement across the page. Borsuk clearly exerts a careful hand in organizing her poems. As much as the collection is brought together thematically by the metaphor and recurring image of salt, it is also brought together by the recurring forms of the poems within it. Loosely, Borsuk’s poems (excluding the long poem at the end of the book) fall within the following forms:
The success of the salt gemetrias as a form within the context of the collection is that it possesses, in parts, aspects of the other forms that Borsuk utilizes. Its movement across the page are echoed in the bracket poems and the works with shifting lines, its opening within lines are echoed with the poems that have the “spine of white space,” its six-line compactness are like the relief of the prose blocks.
“Such structures,” Hoover writes, “constitute ‘secret’ formal and thematic knowledge and seem to work on both a horizontal level of literary consciousness and a vertical level of cultural or deep, consciousness.” It’s true that Handiwork maintains a mysterious secretiveness in its highly structured formulation. In Handiwork, Borsuk gives her readers image-rich but sparsely lyrical language imbued with the lightness of possibility. With just the poem titles like, “In Which Things That Hurt Us Are Stored For Winter,” “The Smell of Rain On Surfaces,” “Lay Your Gaping Switchblade Back,” she lays out stories without telling them explicitly, giving the reader the sense of having access but not complete access, leaving it up to the reader how much and what he or she wants to discover in each reading, but ensuring that each time, something new will be unearthed, showing that when it comes to language, the secrets can be endless. ~AVW