Tuesday, July 12, 2016



Four books by Charles Borkhuis:

Disappearing Acts (Chax Press, 2014)

Afterimage (Chax Press, 2006)

Savoir-Fear (Spuyten Duyvil, 2003)

 Alpha Ruins (Bucknell University Press, 2000)

Notes on the Poetry of Charles Borkhuis

I’ve been binge reading the poetry of Charles Borkhuis.  This activity was instigated by the inimitable Thomas Fink.  Fink has written about both Borkhuis’ Disappearing Acts and my own Appearances: A Novel in Fragments (Moria, 2015) for separate issues of Talisman.  He thought Charles and I share some preoccupations, so he put us in contact with one another.  I’m grateful that he did.

Thus far I’ve read Disappearing Acts (Chax Press, 2014), Afterimage (Chax Press, 2006) and Savoir-Fear (Spuyten Duyvil, 2003).  I’m currently in the midst of reading a fourth volume, Alpha Ruins (Bucknell University Press, 2000).

Where to begin? 

I see CB’s work in terms of knots or constellations of concerns.  His poetry skews toward dark humor.  It is philosophical, surreal, memorable writing.

One of the major threads of Borkhuis’ work is the slipperiness of identity:

someone wears me like a mask
so he may tell a crooked truth
(Disappearing Acts, 69)

everything is itself and something else
(Disappearing Acts, 104)

everybody’s got a false alibi
and another identity or two
squirreled away for a rainy day
(Afterimage, 37)

“so anyone can be replaced
by anyone else” I said

“not quite –
but the same people keep coming back
dressed as total strangers”
(Afterimage, 81)

I was ghosting the future
in a vapor body

I was a different man then
I’m another woman now
(Savoir-Fear, 93)

The last quotation listed above embodies some of the knottiness of Borkhuis’ work which was alluded to earlier—the pairing, that is, of ghostliness, of hauntedness with investigations of identity.  I’m often reminded, while reading these books, of Derrida’s portmanteau word   hauntology, a term which embodies the disjunction within being between presence and absence.

Consider these samplings:

sounds like you and me
shadowing this afterbirth they call real life

the ones living it never meet
the ghosts inside them

or maybe it’s the ghosts that fall in love
and existence just goes along for the ride
(Disappearing Acts, 104)

 maybe we all wake up
as someone else
or else we never wake up
and just keep making
guest appearances
in each other’s dreams
(Afterimage, 65)

‘you can go now
but leave your image with us”
(Afterimage, 73)

           finally I am not myself
but the one erased and rewritten
(Savoir-Fear, 47)

vapors collect
around the moving edges
of a missing person

identity grows another
set of eyes
(Alpha Ruins, 69)

The few threads drawn out from these volumes point to some of the suggestive knots Charles Borkhuis has put in play. But I’ve only grazed the surface. The work is much richer than what has been shown so far or that I am patient enough to show.

For me, poetry at its best is always in excess of what it appears to be—it does more than it seems to say.  It is investigatory, interrogative, and often nicely seasoned with a healthy dash of fuck your ready-made assumptions.   Borkhuis’ work is all these things and more.  His work repays regular re-readings.  My respect for these texts (and their author) grows with each fresh attempt at assimilating them.


Tom Beckett's most recent book is Appearances: A Novel in Fragments, available as a pdf download from Moria Books.

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