The Ecstasy of Capitulation by Daniel Borzutzky
(BlazeVOX Books, Buffalo, New York, 2007)
Capitulation and Speechmakers: Nixon, Love Letters, Handjob Guilt and THE ECSTASY OF CAPITULATION
You’re in a mammoth SUV hurtling down the Garden State Parkway, en route to the Monmouth County incinerator. Your names are Hannah and Gary. You have a Jewish woodcutter for a father. You have questions about his profession: What kind of cuttings does he produce? If he were to hire a staff, what would be their common practice? What woods work best? How would you feel as wood? How would you like new gel inserts, comforting you, between the gas pedal and your footpad while you keep the switchblade to your father’s throat and struggle to drive.
Given this family setup, would you realize you’re within the limits of Daniel Borzutzky’s Ecstasy of Capitulation? If you do, swell with playfulness and possibility. If not, welcome yourself to New Jersey.
Capitulation addresses the reader in the form of an inflatable gorilla-like oddity, seen in car dealership lots during sales events. Once we’re inside, Borzutzky is about-face and giving away his possessions to make way for the reified SUV. But this is hybrid region: longer lines, endless sentences; the puerile and sublime are mapped together in 79 pages. This is marathon: protagonists with dysentery, government jobs and penchants for rough, clandestine lovey-dovey.
"SHARP TEETH OF DEATH: AN ESSAY OF POETS AND THEIR POETICS" opens Capitulation in a decidedly prose direction, assuming books are read in page-order. Describing a view that Borzutzky will revisit in homage to the Chilean writer, Roberto Bolaño, poets in "TEETH" are treated like El Chupacabra. They are mythically evil. They are poisoned and hunted (for a reward of one pfenning). And within this comparison, Borzutzky excels at concept. In taking serious events and texts of history and parodying their plots and form, he creates a criticism of histories that do nothing but repeat. In cobbling together statements of the poet as Chupacabra or as an invasive species, Borzutzky effectively dismantles societal methods of suppression. He climbs into language through double negative, obscured/double meaning and repetition. It’s close to the migrating units of meaning in Clark Coolidge’s Polaroid, and the delight elicited is similar, though the commentary retains a relevance to our time. Namely, that each method of suppression uselessly exceeds the supposed threat, and the further hysteria as these threats are sensationalized. Lying in the documentary of sensation are really juicy language bits.
Capitulation embeds itself well within this literary hyperbole. Tonally, the narrator brags about hunting poets. But when are poets hunted by mercenaries and cornered with poison? "TEETH" shows the arts as a victim of government censorship and market prices. Why do Bestselling hardcovers price around $30? The reader laughs, seeing the poets threat level as serious as El Chupacabra, the reproductive habits of feral coneys, or viral Kudzu. Poets are hunted, and we find this implication amusing. Silly, privileged individuals, these poets who have nothing better to do than to cause trouble. "TEETH" is a critique of both the industry and the marginalization that makes the industry seem so necessary. Borzutzky tags the walls of the fortress, “Look, your walls are right here. You paid to watch them being built.”
And if this isn’t persuasion to listen, Borzutzky hatches the cryptic seals of political discourse, love notes, and subterfuge. In poems like "NOUN CLAUSE," "PRESENT PROGRESSIVE" and "SIMPLE PRESENT," he tunnels through language that fractures with reiterating explanation in attempts toward logic.
Writing in SIMPLE PRESENT:
I only think of you when I do not
think of you. Conversely, when I
think of you, I do not think of you.
Of course, when I think of you, I
think of you, but the you I think of when I
think of you is not the you I want to think of.
The you I want to think of is the
you I think of when I do not think of you.
Were this just a mere statement of desire ad nauseam, the concept might be lost. But still, we’re left with Yossarian, fighting to be free but only free to continue fighting, that the you I think of isn’t the you I am wanting to be thinking of when I’m thinking of the you I’m trying not to think of. We’re after freedom to buy different cars only to be killed by a new car. This type of Catch-22 that exposes the idiocy of jokes about dead soldiers during State of the Union addresses and press junkets to applause and nervous giggles. The you’s and I’s and our thoughts of one another compose a Fibonacci of our fickleness. Our presidency is indecisive.
I only think of you when I do not think of you. Conversely, you only vote for me when you’re not voting for me. I’m not a crook. The indeterminacy of our own thoughts; that in thinking of not thinking of you, I’m thinking of you. Bortzutzky has even written a poem about not thinking of you.
Are you thinking of me?
A recent arrival in New York City, Ryan Daley is part of Homeland Security's plan to keep New York safe. He teaches English Composition at St. Peter's College in Jersey City. His work has appeared in JACKET, Combo and Shampoo. His study of superstructures, and first book, ARMORED ELEVATOR, was published by BlazeVOX Books this year.