The Vital System

by CM Burroughs


“delves into the ultra-sensitive roots of being; where sufferings and desires take shape, she gathers each breath as yet unheard and leads it to speech.” — Hélène Cixous

Format: paperback

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ISBN: 978-1-936797-15-8 Categories: ,

“CM Burroughs’s debut collection of poetry, The Vital System, invites the reader to consider what survives, and more specifically, explores the discourses of body-making and femininity by examining a speaker’s three-month premature birth as a 1 lb. 12 oz. baby. The collection weaves surgeons, mother, sister, and lover into a haunting choreography of dangerous gestures. The speaker is almost always on the edge of the ‘vital system.’ When she is not, she reminisces and strokes the scars on her belly, meditating on the interaction of bodies to bodies, instrument to body, technology to body.” — Megan Fernandes, Boston Review

“The inscripted body of Burroughs’s debut collection, while implicated in modes of self-production and self-observation, as well as networks of power, is neither passive or compliant: the body and its zones of sensation, sympathy, and memory is mobile, erotic, and fully awake to the splendor and violence of becoming human, in a body marked by difference (race, gender) in the world.”
Virginia Konchan, iO Poetry

“The poem and the poems that follow are remarkable not only for their harrowing subject matter but for their demonstration of how subject matter can put enormous pressure on technique, allowing the poet to make original and exciting formal discoveries. I can’t think of anyone else who is writing poems quite like CM Burroughs’s, and this is a book that deserves all the attention it will undoubtedly receive.” — Aaron Baker, On the Seawall

“The language here is molten and dreamlike, chewy, even; it begs to be read aloud. And Burroughs’s use of sound and typography makes for a book that nearly buzzes and beeps. Her form is often anatomical, and the verse here is punctuated, bracketed, footnoted, numbered, and struck out.” — Oliver Bendorf, Devil’s Lake

“I was looking forward to seeing a collection by CM Burroughs, whose work I had read only in small bursts. I imagined that her tightly controlled language, make-you-blink images, and ultraviolet emotional registers would only be more powerful within the larger context of a book, and I am happy to report that I was right.” — Evie Shockley, On the Seawall

The Vital System is the first published book by a poet already setting off sparks among readers across the globe. In these poems, the body is always at stake — vulnerable — and the poet dares to try and illuminate what she has called “the protective capability of violence.” Burroughs’s compression of phrasing, subverted syntax, and ability to release a story through cinematically sequenced images allow her to expose particular tensions that are gendered and racial as well as essentially human.

“There is no doubt, CM Burroughs is one of those few beings who are hewn out of the living body of Poetry. But the poem speaks, says Celan. The poem, that is to say, this body which is at one with language, which breathes, swallows, revels in its house of words. How does one recognize a poem? By the fact that, when one reads it, one can feel this living thing caressing us inwardly, licking our hearts, weeping tears into our blood. A poem drips through to us. In an injection of luminous sentences. There is no doubt, each thought of CM Burroughs’s is a poem. The reunion of the self with its primeval worlds. CM Burroughs delves into the ultra-sensitive roots of being; where sufferings and desires take shape, she gathers each breath as yet unheard and leads it to speech.”— Hélène Cixous

“CM Burroughs’s provocative first collection enacts the ways in which the very nature of thought is brokenness and disruption. Saturated in red, full of ellipses, slash marks, lacunae, brackets, and all manner of typographical signaling, this work bristles with a Hopkins-like clashing of syllables and haunting silences. In its challenging engagement with the page as a visual field, The Vital System submerges narrative while never wholly abandoning it. Words cut, tear and scar, “thin blades shining”; “grateful to be haunted.” If the word “I” is in itself both an infected and glorious thing, how are we to think of it?—this is one of the compelling questions implicit at the heart of this book so full of vivid cusps and strivings.” — Laurie Sheck

“With gorgeous horror, Burroughs’s debut thrusts the body forward as an intelligence, a syntax, a theater. The narrator of these poems seems to come apart before my eyes; yet she never disintegrates — she teems. Here is vivid grief, livid vulnerability and bristling sensuality. Here is terrible resilience and dangerous vitality.” — Douglas Kearney

photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

CM Burroughs was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and earned degrees from Sweet Briar College and the University of Pittsburgh. She has been awarded fellowships from Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Idyllwild Arts, Cave Canem Foundation, and Callaloo Writers Workshop, and both the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Warhol Museum have commissioned her to create poetry in response to art installations. She lives in Chicago where she is the Elma Stuckey Emerging Poet-in-Residence at Columbia College.

Additional information

Weight .4 lbs
Dimensions 6 × .5 × 9 in

raving: i

Once I wrote a poem larger than any man, even Jesus.
So tall the furrow of hair couldn’t be tousled,
feet large as lakes. I titled it Personification so it
would live, Godzilla in parenthesis so it would kill.

There was blood. Testicles lay in the streets
like confetti post-parade. I was glad: Diana
after Actaeon’s own salivating pack consumed him—
limb by limb licked, tendons trailing.

I rode the shoulder of my poem, wanting to see
their faces, none specific, all malevolent, calling out
last moments in ridiculous language—love, affection,
Tender, one screamed. Not loudly enough and too late.

I wore red paint, salvaging neither plated breast,
nor firm mouth. Not once was I tender.
I wanted them wasted—him, him, him, him, him