Posts Tagged ‘The Arrogance

28
May
20

On Rick Bursky’s Let’s Become a Ghost Story

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

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“‘Convulsive beauty’ . . . associates surrealist beauty with the unknown, with desire and with the promise of revelation” – Krzysztof Fijalkowski

Rick Bursky Let's Become a Ghost StoryRick Bursky’s Let’s Become a Ghost Story (BOA Editions, 2020) is a story convulsing in reality. It is a story that begins with poems grounded in surreal, sexual desires and ends in poems exploring death and the afterlife. It’s a story about making stories about relationships, and “Relationships,” according to Bursky in “Like Many Other Technologies, My Dreams Are Now Obsolete,” “are stories / two people write at the same time.” Most of these relationships are with the speaker’s various lovers, but at times, especially in section II, are about relationships with the speaker’s father, sister, women, and war. Let’s Become a Ghost Story, seemingly, is Bursky’s strategy for creating his “ghost story” that irrupts into the real.

One way to confront this repressive hold of reality is to provide surreal images like:

     Lovers have used my tongue as a red carpet.
     It’s been said my elbows glow in the dark,
     and on hot, humid days I sweat fireflies.   
                                               (“The Scaffolding”)
 

Or:

     A woman asked me to swallow a compass
     so I would always find my way back to her.   
                                               (“I Could Have Been an Inventor”)

The latter recalls (perhaps by way of homonym) John Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” but unlike Donne’s simile of two lovers “As stiff twin compasses,” the surreal presentation works by association that combines the desire to consume, the desire to return to a lover, and the desire to satisfy a lover’s request. And in this we can see two stories. One story is a woman requesting an act, and the other is the accommodating act. Images and experiences like these are not found in the waking world, but as they are read, they blend smoothly into the waking world. The surreal irrupts into the real, is accommodated by the real, and changes what is real.

Another way to confront the repressive hold of reality is by creating moments where the reader is not sure if what is presented is true. For instance, in “Sooner or Later, Everything Comes Out,” Bursky writes, “a single pencil / can draw a line thirty-five miles long.” I didn’t know if that was true or not. It felt like it could or could not be true. I looked it up. It’s true. When one of Bursky’s characters says, “the padlock was invented in ancient Egypt” (“There Were Many Luxuries Involved”), that seemed too early for the invention of the padlock, but I looked it up and it was true. Also true is “The earliest dentist known by name is Hesi-re. He practiced in Egypt, / five thousand years ago.” Because of this, Bursky establishes credibility, and this credibility will allow him to subvert the privilege of conscious reality. An example of the height of conscious reality is Albert Einstein, and so Bursky confronts that reality with another pencil in the prose poem “The Arrogance”:

“If you stand on the beach, reach out and rub the horizon with a pencil eraser, earth and sky become one,” Albert Einstein wrote to his sister, Maja: “catastrophic possibilities, I’d rather not consider walking barefoot in the sand.”

While Einstein did have a younger sister named “Maja” and was concerned with the “catastrophic possibilities” of atomic power, he did not write this passage. It seems real, and it seems real enough, that the speaker tries to erase the horizon, and the reader wonders if he will, but he fails. But instead of recognizing the impossibility of erasing the horizon, he thinks:

Instead of the eraser I should have brought the whip to the beach. I believed if I stood in surf and cracked it the whales would know I was there.

Bursky has created truths, fallacies, and half-truths that all blend into a truthiness. Whatever he writes feels true. The reader can experience these situations in the mind, and if they can be experienced, they must be true. His earlier credibility allows him to undermine what is considered reality. The pencil will appear again in “This Is Another Version of Heroism.” In this poem, his porn star wife gave him a “box / of pencils imprinted with my name.” In this case, a lover gives him a gift with which he can create possibilities and realities. But in this case, he doesn’t use the pencils, as expected. He concludes the story of the pencils:

     I never used the pencils until today
     when I sharpened all of them to down to nubs.
     She would be flattered by this:
     everything was a compliment to her,
     even my name, a pile of shavings in a silver cup.

He shreds his signifier and destroys the potential to create with language, as classical surrealists were haunted by the idea that language is not speech but is reality. Bursky breaks down reality into an action that creates a symbol in an unconventional way. He transforms from one reality (life) into another (afterlife), which is significant because this poem opens the section “Four” that explores the afterlife and how to create a ghost story – his own ghost story. He speaks from the dead. He speaks the dead into the living. In Let’s Become a Ghost Story, Rick Bursky eventually dissolves conscious antinomies to allow for revelation and for a truer story to emerge. //

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Bursky, Rick. Let’s Become a Ghost Story. BOA Editions, 2020.

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Works Cited

Fijalkowski, Krzysztof. “Convulsive Beauty.” Surrealism: Key Concepts, edited by Krzysztof Fijalkowski and Michael Richardson, Routledge, 2016, pp. 182-192.

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