An Introduction to Daniel Borzutzky by Henk Rossouw

In “Fungus: A Poem in 5 Acts,” Daniel Borzutzky transforms the long poem from fusty modernist artifact into something uncanny, shimmering, insistent—and that eats you alive. With its long-lined, recursive loops, “Fungus: A Poem in 5 Acts” cannibalizes Joyelle McSweeney’s sense of the necropastoral to activate the fungus, the poem’s titular figure, as a kind of anti-epic hero, a shape-shifting fatal hero that revolts and fascinates. It conjures great joy in the reader—if joy is thought of as terrifying also!—even as the reader is being eaten alive. This poem is not afraid of affect, of re-creating affect in the half-eaten reader. Voracious and formally brilliant, Daniel Borzutzky’s work astounds me: Each line reinvents itself yet returns to the unnamable theme, as if each line were a singing spoke attached to the silent center of the wheel. Put another way, the semiotic fungus is whispering with a sense of urgency into my consumable ear. I’m happy to be eaten alive several times by this long poem, which offers a reading experience like no other.

Daniel Borzutzky is a poet and translator. His most recent book is Written After a Massacre in the Year 2018. His 2016 collection, The Performance of Becoming Human received the National Book Award. Lake Michigan (2018) was a finalist for the Griffin International Poetry Prize.  A forthcoming collection, The Murmuring Grief of the Americas (Coffee House Press) will be published in 2024. His most recent translation is Paula Ilabaca Nuñez’s The Loose Pearl (2022), winner of the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. His translation of Galo Ghigliotto’s Valdivia received ALTA’s 2017 National Translation Award, and he has also translated collections by Cecilia Vicuña, Raúl Zurita, and Jaime Luis Huenún. He teaches English and Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.