After taking a bit of a hiatus from this column over the holidays, my encounter with this essay by Daniel Borzutsky, a Chicago-based poet and translator, has coaxed me back to work. Before reading the essay (I’m embarrassed to admit), I didn’t know Borzutsky’s work well, although I had read some excerpts and his statement of poetics in the wonderful new Counterpath anthology Angels of the Americlypse: New Latin@ Writing.
I was first attracted to Borzutzky’s essay because it opens with an incredible quote by Don Mee Choi, a friend of mine who is herself a poet and translator.
Among recent notices on my Facebook feed was one for the new issue of Big Bridge, in particular a feature on “Neo-surrealism,” edited by Adam Cornford. Cornford’s expansive introduction to the feature, which looks back to the history of surrealism and forward to his selection of living poets, includes this definition of his subject: “What defines a Surrealist poetry today, then, is what has defined it from the outset . . . Surrealist poetry can only be ‘a cry of the mind determined to break apart its fetters.’ It must contribute, intentionally or otherwise, to the liberation of the mind ‘and all that resembles it.’” I’m not here to argue against the mind’s liberation, rather to suggest that newer forms of surrealism can be used effectively to record what occurs before the imagined line break in Cornford’s phrase, “the mind determined to break apart / its fetters.” The breaking apart of a mind, most familiar to me as a product (or anti-product) of dementia and Alzheimer’s, can be tracked through what I’ve elsewhere called “documentary surrealism.”