The Performance of Becoming Human

Winner, National Book Awards 2016 for Poetry

The Performance of Becoming Human, by Daniel Borzutzky, book cover
ISBN 9781936767465
Brooklyn Arts Press
Daniel Borzutzky author photo
Daniel Borzutzky

Daniel Borzutzky’s books and chapbooks include, among others, In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy, Bedtime Stories for the End of the World!, Data Bodies, The Book of Interfering Bodies, and The Ecstasy of Capitulation. More about this author >

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Following in the path of his acclaimed collections The Book of Interfering Bodies (Nightboat, 2011) and In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy (Nightboat, 2015), Daniel Borzutzky returns to confront the various ways nation-states and their bureaucracies absorb and destroy communities and economies. In The Performance of Becoming Human, the bay of Valparaiso merges into the western shore of Lake Michigan, where Borzutzky continues his poetic investigation into the political and economic violence shared by Chicago and Chile, two places integral to his personal formation. To become human is to navigate borders, including the fuzzy borders of institutions, the economies of privatization, overdevelopment, and underdevelopment, under which humans endure state-sanctioned and systemic abuses in cities, villages, deserts. Borzutzky, whose writing Eileen Myles has described as “violent, perverse, and tender” in its portrayal of a “kaleidoscopic journey of American horror and global horror,” adds another chapter to a growing and important compendium of work that asks what it means to a be both a unitedstatesian and a globalized subject whose body is “shared between the earth, the state, and the bank.”

Judges Citation

In Daniel Borzutzky’s The Performance of Becoming Human, the surreal and the absurd come together to show that we are living in the apocalyptic future we once feared. These poems ask how we (or maybe how dare we) experience the tragedies of oppression and cruelty as if they were as mundane as making the bed: “They chopped up two dozen bodies last night and today I have to pick up my dry cleaning.” Through repetition and obsessive accumulation, every phrase leaps off the page, begging to be spoken aloud, or shouted. The work is as personally conflicted as Berryman’s, as stealthy as Celan’s, and as openly political as Ginsberg’s.

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2016 National Book Awards - Daniel Borzutzky (Full)


Daniel Borzutzky reads from The Performance of Becoming Human, 2016 NBAs Finalists Reading

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