Marianne Boruch: A Poetry Reading

What a treat, at the end of a (very) long working day!  Having found a free parking space in my usual side street (best-kept secret), I fairly legged it through the pouring rain and stepped into the time capsule that is the Mayor’s Parlour in Leicester’s Guildhall just in time to catch Caroline Cook’s introduction and welcome.

Marianne Boruch is a professor of English at Purdue University, Indiana, and a Fullbright scholar, writing and teaching at the University of Edinburgh.  She has published eight poetry collections, including The Book of Hours (Copper Canyon Press 2011).

I first heard Boruch read at a Leicester Poetry Society event several years ago.  Tonight’s reading was an altogether different experience: add to the mix the endeavours of campanologists in rehearsal at the cathedral next door, visual distractions in the form of an ornate heraldic fireplace (anno 1637) as backdrop (I wonder what happened to my cherished childhood copy of The Observer’s Book of same…), various items of wall furniture, including a couple of imperious-looking characters (framed) and, bizarrely, a bright green sequin which winked at me from its niche between the floorboards…

Marianne talked about her semester spent in the dissection lab at Purdue University where she spent twelve hours a week, at the same time studying life drawing.  Working from the notes she made on her observations and overheard comments/conversations, she wrote a series of poems, Cadaver, Speak, as yet unpublished in book form, although they have appeared in The Georgia Review, fall 2010 issue.  These are persona poems, written almost against her will, as the character of her favourite corpse, a hundred-year-old woman, took over.  A fascinating window on a world, too: in the US, cadavers’ heads are kept wrapped in bandages, mummy-like, until eventually revealed – a moment of high drama.  In the UK, however, students are eyed by their corpses throughout the proceedings.  And the origin of those traditional red and white barbers’ poles…

The Book of Hours, Boruch’s latest collection, is a kind of journal, a portrait of time, written in quatrains. There are God poems, Voice poems (an older poet addressing younger poets), her mother’s death a thread throughout.  Marianne views this collection as distinct from her previous writing: poems that came, unbidden, and kept on coming.

At least as fascinating as the poems themselves was an insight into the various writing processes: notes morphing into poems; a character imposing her will/personality/opinions upon the writer; organic poems that willed themselves into existence.

Marianne Boruch, unassuming, oh-so-softly-spoken, but a true inspiration.  She brought no publications for sale, so will employ my favourite search engine forthwith.  But that green sequin offers all manner of possibilites…

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