Master Suffering

by CM Burroughs


Longlist Selection

“CM Burroughs’s Master Suffering is a striking, brave, and stunning book.” —Sean Singer

Format: Paperback
Published: Jan. 2021

Available on backorder

ISBN: 978-1-946482-38-9 Categories: , , Tag:

In Burroughs’s brilliant second collection… there isn’t a single poem that misses, which makes it all the more devastating to get through each of these 36 impeccable lyrics.”

Phillip B. Williams, NPR

“CM Burroughs’s Master Suffering is transcendent: revealing anguish, vulnerability, and a guttural beauty. The nucleus of this searing treatise on bereavement and belief, is a younger sister’s death. Often employing the epistolary as a form of elegy, Master Suffering investigates the labyrinthine dimensions of desire, mourning, faith, and misogyny. The keening power of Burroughs’ poems is felt repeatedly, especially in the stripped down interrogative, ‘Why would you put / so much sadness in one person?’ Ultimately, Master Suffering serves as a concentrated ‘balancing song’—a book-length conjuring to counter grief’s entropy. It is a pulsing utterance providing solace in the dark.”

—Simone Muench

“Dear reader, I would stop us at the title of this harrowing and beautifully ranging book, and have us note how that title—Master Suffering—sits, on one hand, as imperative and, on another, as a nod to old suffering’s power over all of us. The book goes deeply into the territories—death and family and the various ways bodies fail us and also ‘radiant pain opening/ as pure sound.’ And note, dear reader, the gestures toward order, these in the epistolary riffs (complete with trigger warnings) and in the repeated insistence on cleaning house. And note that liver, site of the organ failure addressed here, is also the word for one who lives. Halfway in, CM Burroughs writes, ‘I have seen myself through.’ There’s so much here.”

—C. S. Giscombe

Master Suffering: a directive? Or a direct address? CM Burroughs throws us off-balance before we’ve opened the cover of her dynamic new collection, and continues to blow us away, moving us further and more deeply with each turn of the page. The voice in these poems echoes with wrenching questions (‘Ready to suffer?’ ‘Do you want to look inside?’), although its assertions speak just as resonantly: ‘I will suffer desire,’ she writes in one poem. ‘I have seen myself through,’ in another. Burroughs opens a door for her reader onto a world of emotion contained by hospital corners and taut lines; we are invited in, though not as passive onlookers, but ‘active participant[s]’: ‘Fit your body into the [ ].’ What do grief, sex, and poetry have in common? The ‘arc through pain to (is it?) pleasure.’ Travel this terrain of blurred boundaries with Burroughs until all lines—except the lines of these amazing poems—dissolve.”

—Evie Shockley

“CM Burroughs’s Master Suffering is a striking, brave, and stunning book. Her poems consider the problem of the body, the woman’s body in particular, and the speaker’s bravery with sex, with being in a body, and lusting after life. This desire or impulse is contra posed with the story of her sister, who died following a liver transplant. There is a physicality or muscularity of these body poems that is heightened by a third thread, a questioning, of the Creator, of authority figures, ghosts, voices in one’s own head, etc. These don’t necessarily have answers, but they try to tie together the other two: the vibrant, sexual-feeling, free person and the memory, of the gone person whose body couldn’t have that. Her forms are so beautiful and they really reinforce the content and ideas in the poems. There are fragments, tremendous leaps, epistles, some like cries in the dark, and others are more like exclamations. I love Burroughs’s poems and I love Master Suffering. It’s not easy to make poems like these, and they are important.”

—Sean Singer

“[S]omething like salvation arrives not in self-denial or mastery over another but in the joint, in the space of both self-ownership and shared pleasure. The poems themselves invite a readerly witnessing of pain but also foreclose on full clarity: while some offer up their stories in plain phrasing, others are demanding, resisting interpretation, a mix of self-exposure and enigma.”

— Cynthia R. Wallace, in Ploughshares

Master Suffering pendulates between yield and command; the bodies of this book are supplicant yet seething—they want nothing more than to survive. But how does a woman survive? One’s own healthy body helps, but illness is one of the masters of this book. Faith can be a salve for the inscrutable ailments of the body, but God is unreliable in these poems. The female bodies of Master Suffering want power; they want to control and to correct the suffering they witness and withstand.

CM BurroughsCM Burroughs is Associate Professor of Poetry at Columbia College Chicago. She is the author of two collections: The Vital System (Tupelo Press, 2012) and Master Suffering (Tupelo Press, 2020.) Burroughs has been awarded fellowships and grants from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, Djerassi Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Cave Canem Foundation. She has received commissions from the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Warhol Museum to create poetry in response to art installations. Burroughs’ poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies including Poetry magazine, Callaloo, jubilat, Ploughshares, VOLT, Best American Experimental Writing Anthology, and The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks. Burroughs has been a featured reader and has given poetry lectures and writing workshops at institutions and reading series across America and internationally.

Additional information

Weight 0.25 lbs
Dimensions 6 × 9 in

Click here to access a complimentary lesson plan on “The Epistolary Poem,” designed by Sean Cho Ayres.

Click here to access a complimentary lesson plan on “The Poem Sequence,” designed by Sean Cho Ayres.


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