The award-winning poet speaks in a brand new guide in regards to the taking pictures of the Pittsburgh synagogue

Like many others, Daniel Borzutzky remembers where he was when he received news of the Tree of Life building shooting.

The former Pittsburgh native received a text message from a friend first, then a call from his mother while he was at the gym. Although Borzutzky now lives in Windy City and teaches at the University of Illinois in Chicago, he grew up in Squirrel Hill near the synagogue. In fact, Tree of Life was his family’s ward and where he became a bar mitzvah.

In the days after the attack, Borzutzky was devastated, he said. He looked for a way to express his feelings and did what writers did. He wrote.

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“To a certain extent, as a writer, I’m not sure I have a choice as to what concerns me,” Borzutzky said over the phone from Chicago. “Of course I have a choice of what I write. I have no choice about what drives me to write. ”

His reactions as well as his thoughts on other mass shootings, violence at the border, the plight of immigrants, xenophobia and much more shape his latest collection of poems “Written after a massacre in 2018”.

Written after a 2018 massacre was in part a response to the tree of life massacre. Cover by Cecilia Vicuña.

The dedication to the book shows Borzutzky’s feelings: “To the tree of life and to Pittsburgh / To the love that survives / To Chicago and Santiago / To the love that survives / To those who migrate / To the love that survives / To the Murdered by white supremacists / To the love that survived / To those who were murdered by the state / To the love that survived / For all of us we break and are broken. ”

Borzutzky, the 2016 National Book Award winner for poetry in 2016 for his “The Performance of Becoming Human” collection, writes in a bleak and immediate style without artistry. The pictures are clear and straightforward.

His poem “Managed Diversity” contains lines such as “They keep coffins at the border when the refugees are too far from home” and “The box has room for a child.”

He later wrote in “Systematic Risk”: “It is better to deprive a few million people of food than to get a grip on the world economy.”

His writing might not invite him to speak to the International Monetary Fund anytime soon, but its immediacy makes it appealing to long-time poetry readers as well as beginners who just dip their toes into the genre.

Consider his use of alliteration in the poem “Written After a 2018 Massacre”: “Marines treat others and mix their milk with mononucleosis. Millionaires multiply in the funeral machinery and manufacture mausoleums for martyr-Marxists in Mercedes. ”

You are drawn to simple – but not oversimplified – writing.

Unsurprisingly, Borzutzky counts Chilean poets Cecilia Vicuña and Raúl Zurita as influences. He has translated his work into English and calls the couple “my heroes in art” in the dedication of the book.

While in the current political climate it is not surprising to find writers who grapple with immigration, labor rights, and economic inequality, Borzutzky’s Latino roots go deeper than cable news networks.

His family emigrated from Chile to Pittsburgh via New York when his father came to the United States to study medicine. His mother, a lawyer, received her PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and now teaches at Carnegie Mellon University.

Most of his family’s friends in Pittsburgh also immigrated from Latin America, he said.

“From Cuba, from Argentina, a couple of people from Chile,” he said. “At the time, we felt we knew most of the Latin Americans in Pittsburgh. Of course I’m sure that’s not true. But it felt like a very small community. “

As a result, the relationship between the United States and Latin America has always been part of his writing, he said.

Both his Jewish and Latin American backgrounds were related to filming in the Tree of Life building and are reflected in his new collection of poems. One of the reasons the shooter targeted this location was because of its relationship with HIAS, a Jewish organization that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees. In the 1970s, the nonprofit helped Borzutzky’s parents when they settled in the United States.

The book is a response not only to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, but also to the 2019 massacre in El Paso, Texas, in which nearly all 23 victims were Latinos.

At the end of the collection, Borzutzky writes in prose in a play entitled “End Note” that “we live in a land of massacre” and then goes into the murders of October 27, 2018. He lists the names of the eleven victims, quoting the poet Zurita: “The apocalypse is not when the world ends; It is when a single person is killed. “

He later lists the names of those murdered in El Paso. Borzutzky also mentions anti-Asian violence in a forward-looking line.

While the book is faced with dark events, Borzutzky believes it would be wrong to view it only as a response to violence.
“I think the hope is that trying to create a work of art is something hopeful, even if it reacts to difficult, deadly violent things – and that hope gives people life,” he said. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at

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