Poetry Review: Pomegranate Eater by Amaranth Borsuk


The number of spaces I read parts (selections, in order) of Pomegranate Eater, poet and professor Amaranth Borsuk’s second major solo poetry collection: three (a café’s table, a different café’s table, a desk at a home). The number of spaces I attempted to read bits and pieces of the same book but failed: five (a car’s driver’s seat, an office desk, an office break room, a bed at a home, and a park). There is something very peculiar about the will of this book (yes, I am briefly mentioning/arguing that there is something spirit-like, an essence, a soul, in this book) that keeps it read where it needs to be read. It has to do with the way the cover, a Julie Heffernan self-portrait, stares back at you from any obtuse or acute angle. It has to do with one’s state of stillness, and with one’s lack thereof. It has to do with one’s relationship with Borsuk’s poetry, of course, and predominantly so, those poems that have been challenging to read in the past, joyful to read in the past, challenging to read in the present, joyful to read in the present, and the future is there too, the book says, don’t forget about it!

It will take centuries

before I learn to speak plain.

(from “A White Lie, a Blue Blur, Ablution”)

Stepping forward then: the book opens, a poem begins, a world of language unravels, and then the reader is changed. The world must be entered. What is the world? Where are these poems? Where do they take place? Where are they kept? As the stuff of dreams and reality, and the delightful 21st century iteration of the between-place, then the stuff of the surreal. A code, a beckon, a growl beyond the siren’s wail, morphing and molting: “you want me to climb, // again, the glacier of my old desire and see / my absurd reflection.” I am remembering how I was sitting in a car: there is dust floating around the dashboard and the book won’t open itself. Forward, still: there then is Blondie being played in the background, or maybe it’s Jack White days earlier, or maybe it’s Zomby hours later than that. The poems change time. Borsuk’s visages begin to dance on their own, begin to sway and fall across the consciousness. Stilted and sturdy, like a meditative nothing-being spark of anti-moment: open, open, open your life! And please do. And I did. I read the poems and they fell across my face like a breeze, or a slap of air. The same wind that closes Borsuk’s book in “Landscape with Openings,” which, collectively colossal, coos: “In jewelweed behind the house, / we trigger flowers, make each / prismatic pod coil into ribbons.” Worlds, I tell you, worlds!


Allow me a moment to back up, to state the obvious for those who know and those who are about to: Borsuk is a master of language. Not only does she make it a part of her daily life as faculty at University of Washington: Bothell, inspiring and challenging artists of all shapes and sizes to go forth and exist; Borsuk concocts, yes, yes, a startlingly profound collection of creations. Her first solo collection was in 2012: Handiwork. And what about her amazing, intimate diarist erasure romp with Andy Fitch, As We Know (2014)? How about her experimental multimedia work with Brad Bouse, Between Page and Screen (2012 and 2016)? Consider her generative poetry app (I’m making this term up, but not the reality of the creation!) Abra, made in 2015 with Kate Durbin and Ian Hatcher? Questions, and more questions! Go see what she’s working on. Grace yourselves while you’re bracing yourselves. And then consider this–not a lobster, but an eater, of pomegranates, a book about fruit, about the body, and being, and independence, and swirls and tides of things I know not, things that would take an Amaranth Borsuk to know, things that are deftly beautiful and do not hesitate.

My dual plea: be phantomed if you like, but please

be felt. We fold in our desires, like buried rhymes,


till each expires.

(from “Dear Drawn”)

Pomegranate Eater by Amaranth Borsuk is (has been) published by Kore Press. It came out this year, in 2016. It is 79 pages. The book has a form of three sections of poems, including “Feast of Ingathering” (containing 14 poems), “Nerve and Burnt Sugar” (containing 17 poems), and “The Windy Orchard Itch” (containing 14 poems). These series are each unique in spirit but commonly carrying the spirit of the book. They are fragments at different angles, composed of the same mirror-glass. The poems are individual, and are about the individual, but they are also beyond. Don’t be fooled, or confused: many of these poems flock together as miniseries, thusly expanding the reading experience far beyond the count of 45. And don’t be fooled or confused: these are not mere poems, despite their forms (a nicely-spliced array of forms, from rigid and imposing blocks/columns to the staggered/chiseled lines-with-breaks), carrying together proper stanzas at times and other vortexes of beautiful-sounding language at other times; no, my friendly readers, these poems are open and bold, just as the book alludes. They are like pomegranates, containing the jeweled spectrum within, containing so much within, and by reflection, without. A ruby sense of invitation. A sheen of red. A rouge of tongue lapse as you read the words aloud, entrancing thyself, frightening thy neighbor in an arousal of illusion and sonic spores.

More freestone than peachblow, I lack

the hue, but get the nectar. Ask me,

how do I play? I cleave and cleave the

alveolar stone, my pit, amarevole.

(from “The Nectarine’s Second Sight”)

Do not ask me how many pages of notes I have written in my methodology of deciphering just what Borsuk is writing of, on, about, and for whom. Do not ask! I mean it! Instead, please, please tell me of your notes, what you have crafted, what poem seedlings came to life through a book of verse bearing such titles as “Apple Palmed” and “A Semaphore Confesses Deflagration” and “A Choir, a Curia of Virtual Virtue” . . . to be inspired is an understatement. Like binaural beats blasting in a stereophonic listening apparatus, the poems of Pomegranate Eater are effective. They may not be intentionally aimed at specific brain patterns, but the language itself undoubtedly reflects upon a wonderfully magical and highly visible landscape of whirling images and potent sensations.

Choose: horn or corn, crow or grow,

cuckold or cock crow. Clasp this

tethered ring and take what you’re

given from thighs to chin—take it in.

(from “Bird to Badger: Come In, Come In!”)

And yet these are not poems restricted by the senses. They are not spectacle or fodder: Borsuk’s latest writing is some of her most mature work, revealing a contemplative and incredibly forthright artist’s collision with thorough reflection and inspection of the multiple selves by way of the complex and complexer-still metaphor. In fact, be it fiction or autobiography, these poems harken back to the depths of verisimilitude afforded by the Gothic, one that is clouded but rapturous in their effects. Whether the clouds part is dependent upon the space and investment of the reader and the circumstance and the alignment of many variable energies. For instance: what does “enisled” mean? What is “ullage” or “agon” or “anagoge” or “selvage” or “panicle”? Words, like ants climbing across a skeletal spine, these words have erratic behaviors and require magnification to understand and describe. This is the sense of the marvelous and the mysterious and the masterful of the lingual and representational brought by Borsuk to the field (or forest) floor of our lives.


A moment of logic, of the crisp, of the skin (skein) of the fruit, so to speak. Following an opening epigraph from Rilke introducing the positive charge of a (the) woman (Woman), the book begins. Borsuk enters as self (or Borsuk’s Speaker enters as self) through an introduction, and we know this is a book of poems, grown out of the image of the fruit, which is, in this case, the pomegranate. There is the tone of the radiant host presented in the introduction poem and it’s a beautifully honest eruption of what is to come. The reader is invited but done so sternly. The intentionality is a bar set high. The roles of the speaker represent function, represent function of the self. Borsuk is as Romantic, I noted, as Gothic, and the sense of viscera is present through and through allowing for the aforementioned mystery to blossom and, further, come to fruit (and fruition). The poems that follow cover, densely, the history of the self, the history of being. There is balance amidst the chaos of a sensory of surplus. It is thus understandable Borsuk in inspired by such influences as Shakespeare, Darwin, and John Ashbery in some of these poems; Gertrude Stein and Issey Miyake in others. A wild but controlled wild, the ultra-realism-cum-fantastical brought into the spot-lit phantasmagorical orchard composed by Borsuk as poem to poem extend their branches toward one another.

The book’s first section focuses on states of being, confrontations of doubt, and revelry in time and the transforming environment move along, a sense of transience and a sense of transient pressure are incredibly present. The blurs of motion result in my reading self writing things like “have no idea what’s going on, but again, it sounds amazing” and “a carrying of blended sexualities, blended genders, attractions are curiously ambiguous” and looking back, I think: if this is what came out of this book for me, what infinite a well this book can be for the world! The book’s second section mutes some of the magic allowing for a distillation of mood, emotion, and that motion. Where one would expect more order is not necessarily so: Amaranth Borsuk provides the reader with a world that is too fluid and real to have things easily structured; instead, we have better pacing, better buffers, that allow us to prepare and reflect on the kaleidoscope of complex existence such a beautiful, heavy, hurried world can never depart. Here is tension. Here is truth. Here is why we write, what we write for, what is functional, what is healing. Here is where I realized Borsuk’s poetry is for poets. But more importantly: Borsuk’s poetry is for the poetic. An homage. A gift. A wonder of whose world creates whose.

The brushfire is that old avoidance. The grass

connotes something outgrown. The corn

portends warmer weather. Your mustache

means friendship: a union of mirrored

halves. It’s time you faced the unknown.

(from “Parable in which One Wrestles a Double”)

I could go on, but I’m delaying your pursuit. From start to finish, we have lines that remind me of so many writers, but not quite any, at the same time. This is Borsuk’s strongest quality. Her writing is truly her own, and continues to be, after the movement ceases with the close of the book, the tracers behind the eyelids slowly scattering and moving into the recesses of awareness. It is touching, but brutal. It is as “Doug Nufer” as it is “John Berryman” as it is “Gertrude Stein” as it is “Will Alexander” as it is “Mina Loy.” It is persistent, as explained in “Dear Sore”: “I’ve been eroding your compact language.” It is human, as explained in “Voir Dire”: “I’m intimate with cotton—chin / and forehead, false fronts, staples—“. Read this book to begin to turn the key.

Read this book and begin to dig into the outer skin with your fingers. Like the first time you ate a pomegranate with your bare hands.

I’ll be here

until there’s nothing left but gourmet

pans. Take the datebook, I’m finished

making plans.

(from part four of “A Choir, a Curia of Virtual Virtue” entitled “Please Stop Spraying the Calgon”)

Acquire the book or more information about the book via Kore Press.

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