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CHARLES BORKHUIS ON DEAD RINGER @ Dichtung Yammer

  September 2, 2017

EXCHANGE WITH CHARLES BORKHUIS ON DEAD RINGER

Thomas Fink and Angela Bisceglia

 

Thomas Fink: Dead Ringer (BlazeVox, 2017), one of your two new books of poetry, is not the title of one of the poems or even one of the six sections in the book. It possesses a fertile ambiguity (i.e. resemblance or telephone feature) that brings out the life in an old cliché. What motivated the selection of this title?

Charles Borkhuis: Well, like most jumps of the literary imagination there is the flash of an off-center fit or happy dislocation, in this case from title to book. I like your association of Dead Ringer to the interruptive ringing of a telephone, perhaps while someone is reading Dead Ringer. Who is on the other end? A loved one? A wrong number? Do I answer or not? What was the last word I was reading? This can be a provocative and enchanting spark of irritation and illumination like the scream of steam, or the bubbling over of reality into the throes of uncertainty. The insistence of the moment repeats itself, incessantly ringing time by the neck, at once an invitation and a meditation. I once wrote a play called Sunspots in which a man receives a phone call from his dead wife. But that’s another story, or the same story that keeps ringing.

I’ve heard that in the 19th century sometimes the dead were buried with bells in their coffins, so that if they had been mistakenly interred alive, they might wake up and ring the bell. Poe might have been delighted by such an ending. These days one could imagine a cell phone placed on the chest of the deceased because as Robert Desnos says in the last lines of The Great Days of the Poet “… one never knows.”

On another level, Dead Ringer refers to someone who is the “spitting image” of someone else. And that’s a delightful linguistic wordplay in itself. Why “spitting image” and not the more obvious “splitting image”? Does that refer to someone who is close enough to get hit by my spit or someone spit out of my mouth? Origins are always somewhat uncertain because they keep spitting and splitting. I don’t know and don’t want to know past a certain point. I’d rather let the linguistic associations have a good time crossing paths in the subways of my effluvium. Another detour perhaps, another double, or phone ringing in a dream. Pick up sticks. The theme of “the double” appears throughout Dead Ringer, especially in the first section of the book, The Dopplegänger’s Double, which brings up the question of identity, mistaken or otherwise. The Dopplegänger’s Double might be the bounce back of oneself in the mirror, which is to say the flesh and blood you, whoever that may be.

Some people have said that at times the voices in this book appear to be written from the pov of a dead man, or someone in the bardo state, or a ghost haunting the everyday world. This is not altogether untrue and brings to mind some film noir voiceovers in which a character tells a flashback story of the incidents leading up to his death. And here I am reminded of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau quote: “I can truly say that I did not begin to live until I saw myself as a deadman.” I would just add that gallows humor does not go idle in this book, but perhaps taken to another level, it offers a certain amusing upliftment. Mortality, after all, can go in many directions. Alfred Jarry on his deathbed reportedly asked for a toothpick. Just for the record, Dead Ringer was a 1964 film with Bette Davis and Dead Ringers was made in 1988 with Jeremy Irons.

Read The Whole Interview Here

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