10 Questions for Marianne Boruch
- By Edward Clifford
of a totaled car? Disc five there once,
the library lectures-on-tape (Daily Life in the Ancient World)
however fog-socked-in shattered day of arrival.
But arrival: that would be
the Present waitin for a Future to soothe
—from "Is the Past What's Left in the Glove Compartment," Volume 61, Issue 3 (Fall 2020)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
A very simple one about eating eggs for breakfast. Not the first I've ever written, but the piece about which I suddenly thought: my god, this is a poem! Which is to say, it looked back at me. It had its own secret life, could stand up for itself. I wasn't trying to xerox something that happened or make a sweetened scrapbook of some moment of my life. That was a happy shock to me, its self-sufficiency.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Honestly, I have no idea "how I write now." People at times tell me my work is changing, but I feel I still go blank and wait before putting down a single word. Of course, I have heroes. Some that stick: Plath, Bishop, Hopkins, Frost, Hayden, Stevens, Russell Edson, James Tate…..
What other professions have you worked in?
Besides teaching and writing? Not a "profession" really, but my first fulltime gig was as a searcher of lost books at the University of Chicago's Regenstein Library, one of the world's great research collections. I was so lucky, delighted really, to work there. The first book I couldn't find was entitled Truth. That so amused and sobered me. Clearly--the perfect job! Plus I could sneak cigarettes into the stacks—those short-lived long ago days I still smoked.
What did you want to be when you were young?
An archeologist. As a kid, I first inhaled books on prehistory, the early humans and pre-humans who wandered about discovering fire, cave graffiti, fear of death….
Then I went to college and had a roommate who really was majoring in archeology. She spent a very hot exhausting summer digging around the Cahokia Mounds in Illinois, a new find then, looking in the dirt for clues of a lost culture. She switched her focus to dance that subsequent fall. Slowly the romance of finding some new lost city of Troy or the most ancient burial site on the continent faded for me too though I still love that stuff.
For instance, I just saw an old special on NOVA about Neanderthals—who were on the planet far longer than we've been. Red hair, apparently, might be a clue to having that ancient bloodline in us. This little factoid blew my mind. Both my grandparents on my mother's side had such flaming hair (alas, long grayed by the time I met them). I have a trace of that gene, I think. What was Whitman's great line? "I contain multitudes"—though barely discernable streaks of such color among what's darkening dishwater blond may or may not be definitive. Still, in our own multitudes, imagine being part Neanderthal!
What inspired you to write this piece?
A real car crash. Plus the fact that in the CD player was a disc from the local library copy of terrific taped lectures about the ancient world that I had just listened to on a long solo drive from the east coast. But more, the poem is part of this strange new book I've recently completed, what I call a neo-ancient/medieval bestiary, drawn from my time as a Fulbright Research Scholar in Australia, pre-fire, 2019. I was there to observe the wildlife, and hope poems might come of it.
The distances involved, the hopeless mingling of past present future as I did write it, both the poem and the book.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Well, as I mention above, my five astonishing months in Australia completely swept me into this new book, Bestiary Dark, that Copper Canyon will be publishing. Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process? If silence is music—yes! Though I always welcome birdsong or insect hum through an open window. But that is seasonal, not guaranteed.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
First thing in the morning, before the dream wears off.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I'd love to do more watercolors, more drawing. I hope to be Grandma Moses someday.
What are you working on currently?
Final tweaks on Bestiary Dark. And I've just put together a collection of what I call my "wee essays." I'm also transcribing the journals I kept during the semester I was awarded a Faculty Fellowship in the Study of a Second Discipline at Purdue, the fall of 2008. My time in both the cadaver lab of the medical school and, on alternate days, the Life Drawing class in Art and Design. I am hoping it will serve as a kind of memoir. In fact, it's surprising me. Which I take as a good sign.
What are you reading right now?
OMG. An amazing book—The Overstory by Richard Powers, someone my friend Brigit Kelly loved and admired enormously.
I'll read then have to stop sometimes, just to recover.
MARIANNE BORUCH's ten books of poetry include The Anti-Grief (Copper Canyon, 2019). She's written three essay collections, most recently The Little Death of Self (Michigan, 2017), and a memoir, The Glimpse Traveler (Indiana, 2011). Her honors include the Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award, fellowships/residencies from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEA, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, and two national parks (Denali and Isle Royale). On a 2019 Fulbright in Australia, she observed its astonishing wildlife to write a neo-ancient/medieval bestiary of poems. Going rogue and emeritus in 2018 from Purdue University, Boruch continues to teach in the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.