Review of Daniel Borzutzky’s In The Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy

Review by Marie Conlan

Daniel Borzutzky, Available from Amazon
In The Murmurs of the
Rotten Carcass Economy
Daniel Borzutzky’s
(2015, Nightboat)
$16.95 Paper

Turn on this book instead of the 9 o’clock news. Eat it for breakfast until so satiated with poetry it stains your brain, leaks from your mouth, makes a bed in your house to sleep in. Make space for this book, and make time, it will steal your afternoon.

Daniel Borzutzky’s In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy incarcerates the reader in a vulgar reality caked with dead bodies, tortured bodies, mid-death bodies, their blood on hands that wear it like trophies, wave blasé hellos, wash of it like dirt. It is a reality of vile corruption, of power and abuse, of incessant torture and incredible injustice. It is the reality of earth in the 21st century that arrives in something of a dream.

Rendered somewhat through the narrative voice of an insomniac, the poem’s events occur in strange sequence in which radical explanation is accepted without awe, and atrocities float in and out of verse. One moment a man is fleeing the government, the next he is shoved into a uterus and demanded to search for the umbilical cord. Yet the book never disengages, never dissipates into the relief that it was all a dream. Rather, the sensation of the dream is utilized as a carving tool. It guts the insides of immigration, of government control, of government issued murders, of corruption, of neoliberalism, and shoves it into the reader’s face until forced to taste it, smell it, touch it. This is poetry it its most visceral state.

In an interview with the Poetry Foundation, Borzutzky says, “If I have any idea why I write, and I’m not sure I do, I might guess, to paraphrase Don Mee Choi, that I write poems in order to expose what a neoliberal inferno is like, what a racist, capitalist segregated, privatized death state, rotten carcass economy looks like.”

Of Chilean heritage and now a Chicago resident, Borzutzky writes often of the comparisons between Chile and Chicago, specifically in terms of the extreme government privatizations affecting public sectors in everything from parking meters to school systems, as well as the police and government violence that occur daily in both of these places. Borzutzky not only offers the victims of this abusive oppression a voice and a platform in which to shout from, but validates their oppression with a vivid illustration of their trauma very few harbor the audacity to expose.

Although the grotesque nature of Borzutzky’s poetry settles somewhat into the hyperbolic, it is within the hyperbole he is able to most successfully create an accurate portrayal of the truth.  In a disturbing scene of torture, he writes,  “They took the lips of the smallest woman in the world and stretched them so they hung over her mouth which was the size of a baby’s fingernail” [111]. The passage goes on to describe the mud, bones, and food they repeatedly stuff her mouth with until the point of almost breaking. It is a torturous, disgusting image of a helpless being—literally here the smallest woman in the world—controlled, over-powered, and abused by those in power. It is a bizarre scene to experience, but resonates with a profound questioning of power—Who has it? What is done with it? It forces these questions into an uncomfortable, excruciating image as a reminder that power and abuse often come hand in hand. It forces the reader to confront these distressing images, to ask Why? What is causing this?

This image is no more disturbing than a government murdering its own civilians, or retarding the educations of its children, but here it is alive on the page, not guised as politics or numbed down into a formulated news story. It is fresh and right under the nose of the reader.  Borztuzky’s imagery manifests these unnerving sensations about terror and holds them in the light, creating a forced confrontation with terror, demanding a validation of its existence. More than exquisite poetry, this book is the voice of activism. It authenticates violence, makes injustice accessible to an acme that forces confrontation.

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 18, Issue 3.

Marie ConlanMarie Conlan is a Minnesota native currently residing in Colorado. She is completing her MFA at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University.

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