Marianne Boruch indulges in the joy of the short leap between poetry and the essay

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A volume in the Poets on Poetry series, which collects critical works by contemporary poets, gathering together the articles, interviews, and book reviews by which they have articulated the poetics of a new generation.
The line between poetry (the delicate, surprising not-quite) and the essay (the emphatic so-there!) is thin, easily crossed. Both welcome a deep mulling-over, endlessly mixing image and idea and running with scissors; certainly each distrusts the notion of premise or formulaic progression. Marianne Boruch’s essays in The Little Death of Self emerged by way of odd details or bothersome questions that would not quit—Why does the self grow smaller as the poem grows enormous? Why does closure in a poem so often mean keep going? Must we stalk the poem or does the poem stalk us until the world clicks open?

Boruch’s intrepid curiosity led her to explore fields of expertise about which she knew little: aviation, music, anatomy, history, medicine, photography, fiction, neuroscience, physics, anthropology, painting, and drawing. There’s an addiction to metaphor here, an affection for image, sudden turns of thinking, and the great subjects of poetry: love, death, time, knowledge. There’s amazement at the dumb luck of staying long enough in an inkling to make it a poem at all. Poets such as Keats, Stevens, Frost, Plath, Auden, and Bishop, along with painters, inventors, doctors, scientists, composers, musicians, neighbors, friends, and family—all traffic blatantly or under the surface—and one gets a glimpse of such fellow travelers now and then.


Marianne Boruch is Professor of English at Purdue University and a faculty member in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Her most recent poetry collections include Eventually One Dreams the Real Thing; Cadaver, Speak; and The Book of Hours, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, a Fulbright Visiting Professorship from the University of Edinburgh, and visiting artist residencies at the American Academy in Rome and at Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. Her previous volume in the Poets on Poetry series is Poetry’s Old Air.

“Boruch has always been a poet driven by curiosity, turning her wry, quizzical gaze on the ordinary world in order to uncover its essential strangeness.”

“Marianne Boruch’s work has the wonderful, commanding power of true attention.”
The Washington Post