Matthew Borczon’s Battle Lines is the perfect book for Screaming With Brevity to round-up, what has turned out to be, a rather unpredictable and somewhat unfortunate year. Well, let’s be honest here, perhaps calling the political woe of 2016 unpredictable is a bit of a stretch; after all, throughout history, greed, anger and fear have led us into the type of frenzied ignorance 2016 will be remembered for. However, labelling these past twelve months as unfortunate is an altogether appropriate epiphonema to conclude the year’s political discourse. While Battle Lines is not a particularly political book, Matthew Borczon is a poet who has used the unfortunate to create something beautiful with this collection. And as we move into 2017, where the consequences of a decidedly shitty year begin to manifest, we are going to need our musicians, artists, comedians and writers to pick up the pieces and help us make sense of it all.
Battle Lines does just that as Borczon chronicles his deployment to Camp Bastion’s busiest combat hospital where he worked as a hospital corpsman, and his consequent diagnosis of PTSD.
The first poem, written in a matter of fact tone of which the author remains true to throughout the book, documents his return from Afghanistan.
There is little of the graphic in Battle Lines. Much like the above poem, its counterparts which make up this collection are consequential statements of unspeakable experience.
We all know that poetry’s defining quality is its ability to provoke emotion in its audience. However, there are necessary elements within said definition which are worthy of rumination. And they are elements that Borczon demonstrates with natural ease. First and foremost, these poems turn what would otherwise be a private affair into a matter of public concern. Surely that is what art is for; giving voice to the voiceless. Secondly, and of almost equal importance, the frank tone with which the poet writes is mirrored by his open confession of vulnerability and fear. Here lies the significance of Borczon’s account of war; it is not a sensationalistic guts-and-glory story. It is about your every-day individual whose experience of trauma has taken them over the edge and dropped them into the bottomless pit of mental illness.
Battle Lines is about the aftermath of brutality, which by all accounts, has its own measure of brutal, unforgiving destruction. It is about adjusting to peace when the war within continues. It is about trying to find purpose when all meaning has been blown to hell. It is about coming to terms with having given more than any individual can afford. It is about waking in the dead of night, every night, and knowing that despite survival, death is only a whisper away.
Fear and its lasting effect are the key themes in this work, as is fear’s bedfellows; destruction and control.
At no point within the collection is the contrast between the poet’s position as nurse stated in obvious contradiction to his devastating surroundings. The juxtaposition, however, is clear; the position of healing in amongst so much cruelty and violence is as destroying of soul as it is of flesh. Matthew Borczon is the type of writer who pulls from where the secrets are kept, he opens up entirely and shares what would be hidden under any circumstance other than therapy and art. Battle Lines is bleak, beautiful, bereaved, honest and above all, an example of what poetry can be; a voice for the unheard and a signpost for the lost.
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