Marianne Boruch

NER Classics | From Bishop’s Blue Pharmacy

Marianne Boruch‘s Essay, “From Bishop’s Blue Pharmacy,” was published in NER 13.2.

Wasp_Nest_03-1In 1978, a year before her death, Elizabeth Bishop finished a poem, “Santarém,” which placed her in the crux of the marvelous, at the conflux of two of the world’s great rivers, the Amazon and the Tapajos. The poem rings with exotic, chaotic life – carts hooked up to zebus, those curly-horned oxen; young nuns waving, still in their blinding white habits, off to a downriver mission by steamer; a whole lovely racket of departure and arrival. But this is mere overture; the revelation lies in wait, and the poem gradually narrows to its delivery. Entering a “blue pharmacy,” as she calls it, the poet discovers the real fortune – a wasps’ nest, empty, and placed lovingly on a shelf: “Small, exquisite,” she tells us, “clean matte white and hard as stucco.” Even-tually, the pharmacist gives it to her, and she carries off her prize to the waiting ship. There, a Mr. Swan, fellow-passenger and retiring head of Philips Electric – “really a very nice old man” Bishop assures us – blurts out, simply, “What’s that ugly thing?” And so, on such a question, the poem ends (Complete Poems 185).

I can play this movie in my head a hundred times, and I still return to that moment amid the dusty bottles and boxes, the peculiar shade of that “blue pharmacy.” It is the surprise of that gleaming, tidy relic – the wasps’ nest high in its honored place – that triggers my wonder at how a simple image presses itself into memory as fuse and heart to make a poem, to demand that it unfold as it keeps unfolding.

Surprise. How that is linked to finding, to finding out. I think of once finding a similar unexpected treasure, a map, but a wholly different kind of map, a quick, aerial re-take on the earth, calling itself ‘The Top of the World,” its living center not Asia or America or Europe, but the north pole and its arctic air, frozen islands by the hundreds, strips of cold blue – a map, in short, governed by nothing but surprise, that love of the odd angle. There it was at a garage sale a couple of summers ago, leaning against the paint-dripped bookcase, next to the sprung wing-back chair. I stood and stared; I still stand and stare in my own upstairs hall, transfixed. This may be one of those indulgent, dream-lit moments, but I am thinking Elizabeth Bishop would have loved such a map, not as much as the wasps’ nest, perhaps, but probably enough to have outbid me for it at the edge of that slow backyard, overgrown with anthémis and delphinium and poppy.

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NER Classics | Home Planet | Marianne Boruch

California_Desert_Landscape_41Marianne Boruch’s testimony “Home Planet” appeared in NER 31.1:

I kept thinking about that collage, which was, in fact, a rather popular thing to put together then. A very hip friend of mine in the dorm, a girl who insisted on wearing sandals all winter, minus socks even, had done the same thing, searching through various publications—Life magazine always a good bet—for pictures that would make years of people and experience leap out of the wall with an electric, exuberant force. But it was doubly remarkable, there in the Sunderlands’ bathroom. Because it was very cool, making one of those, a wall flooded with various cultural heroes, people off the grid inventing whole new grids. I was sure something odd and quirky remained in those Sunderlands after all, something of the rebel. Here was evidence. Maybe Ned was at the heart of that. At least, on the wall he was.

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Announcing NER 36.2

With its focus on China, NER 36.2 brings us up close to an old, new world of art and history, nature and poetry. Also in this issue, we traverse our own country from the Atlantic to the Pacific with authors as they remember collective pasts, brave their own presents, and escort the most foreign of foreigners from our halls of ivy to our backroads theaters. The new issue of NER has just shipped from the printer and a preview is available on our website. Order a print or digital copy today!


Kazim Ali • David Baker • Christopher Bakken • Joshua Bennett • Bruce Bond • Luisa A. Igloria • Vandana Khanna • Rickey Laurentiis • Katrina Roberts • Ed Skoog • Xiao Kaiyu (translated by Christopher Lukpe) • Ya Shi (translated by Nick Admussen) • Yin Lichuan (translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain)


Steve De Jarnatt • Joann Kobin • Carla Panciera • Sharon Solwitz • Michael X. Wang.


Wei An’s ruminations on nature just north of Beijing (translated by Thomas Moran)
Wendy Willis on Ai Weiwei’s blockbuster show at Alcatraz
Marianne Boruch discovers the diagnostic value of poetry
• Interpreter Eric Wilson relives the encounters of a Faeroese poet with American activists, academics, and alcohol
• James Naremore considers the considerable Orson Welles at 100, looking beyond Citizen Kane
• Jeff Staiger makes a case for how The Pale King was to have trumped Infinite Jest
• Camille T. Dungy is more than welcomed to Presque Isle as she finds herself in Maine’s early history
• “The Gloomy Dean” William Ralph Inge revisits Rome under the Caesars

Order a copy in print or digital formats for all devices.


Mid-Week Break | Marianne Boruch Reads at Bread Loaf

Marianne Boruch reads her poems at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.



“Mud Fest”


Marianne Boruch‘s eight poetry collections include Cadaver, Speak, and The Book of Hours, a Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award winner (Copper Canyon Press). She’s also the author of two essay collections, In the Blue Pharmacy and Poetry’s Old Air, and a memoir, The Glimpse Traveler about hitchhiking in the early 70’s.

Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry, London Review of Books, American Poetry Review, The Nation and elsewhere. She is the recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as artist residencies at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, Yaddo, and the MacDowell Colony, as well as at Isle Royale, our most isolated national park. A 2012 Fulbright/ Visiting Professor in Edinburgh, Scotland, she is the founding Director of Purdue University’s MFA program where she still teaches, in addition to teaching in the low residency Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Marianne’s work was first published in NER in 1990 (13.2) and 1994 (16.4) and her literary criticism “The End Inside It,” selected as a prose feature by Poetry Daily, appears in NER 33.2.

All Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference readings are available for free on iTunesU. Want to hear more? Visit the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Website.

New Books for April From NER Authors

Poetry, Literary Criticism, and
a Reconsideration of Europe’s Darkest Modern Days

41hGZqVGNKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“This book’s a little crazy . . . it’s also packed with truth.”

Mark Bibbins‘ new book of poetry, They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full, is out this month from Copper Canyon Press. His work has appeared in several issues of NER (“Arriving in Your New Country / Dilemma” in 29.4, and “Grief!” in 34.2).

Publisher’s Weekly: “Bibbin’s newest displays his caustic wit and probing insight admit an exhilarating range of cultural references.”

From NPR: “The book’s a little crazy, packed with air quotes and brackets, jokes and condemnations, forms that explode across the page. Crazily enough, it’s also packed with truth.”

Mark Bibbins  teaches in the graduate writing programs at The New School and Columbia University. His most recent poetry collections are The Anxiety of Coincidence (Floating Wolf Quarterly Chapbooks, 2012), and The Dance of No Hard Feelings (Copper Canyon, 2009). His poems have appeared in Poetry, Paris Review, Boston Review, Tin House, Best American Poetry, and more.


51qexzrdGML._SY344_BO1204203200_-200x300NER congratulates Marianne Boruch on the publication of her newest sequence of poems, Cadaver, Speak (Copper Canyon Press). Marianne’s work was first published in NER in 1994 (16.4) and her literary criticism “The End Inside It,” selected as a prose feature by Poetry Daily, appears in NER 33.2.

Marianne Boruch speaks to the Georgia Review about the project from which the poems emerged: “This thirty-page sequence of poems—“Cadaver, Speak”—grew out of a profoundly odd privilege given me in the fall of 2008 by Purdue University, where I’ve taught for twenty-three years. I was awarded the provost office’s “Faculty Fellowship in the Study of a Second Discipline” but, in fact, I had double luck. James Walker of the IU School of Medicine on Purdue’s campus allowed me to participate in his gross human anatomy course (the so-called “cadaver lab”), and Grace O’Brien—artist, and teacher of life drawing at Purdue—said yes, I could join her class, too.”

Marianne Boruch currently teaches in the M.F.A. program at Purdue University and in the Warren Wilson M.F.A. Program for Writers. Her most recent poetry collections are The Book of Hours (Copper Canyon, 2011) and Grace, Fallen from (Wesleyan, 2008).


Frederick Brown Cover Photo“A brilliant reconsideration.”

Frederick Brown‘s biographical narrative, The Embrace of Unreason: France, 1914–1940 (Knopf), traces writers such as Maurice Barres and Charles Murras through France’s descent into instability after the first World War.

From the publisher: The Embrace of Unreason is “a brilliant reconsideration of the events and the political, social, and religious movements that led to France’s embrace of Fascism
and anti-Semitism . . . Brown masterfully brings to life Europe’s—and France’s—darkest modern years.”

Frederick Brown has been published in NER multiple times, most recently in NER 30.4 with Alexis de Toqueville’s Impressions of America: Three Letters, a translation from the French.


9780674430662_p0_v1_s260x420We congratulate Denis Donoghue, professor of English, Irish, and American Literatures at New York University, and NER contributor, on the publication of Metaphor (Harvard University Press). Reflected on every page of Metaphor are the accumulated wisdom of decades of reading and a sheer love of language and life. His literary criticism, “Yeats, Trying to Be Modern,” appears in NER 31.4.

Publisher’s Weekly: “In this prodigiously learned meditation, Donoghue takes readers through the history of the rhetorical device and its incarnation in poetry, fiction, philosophy, and everyday life.”

Denis Donoghue is a member of the International Association of University Professors of English and the Association of Literary Scholars and Teachers. He has published books on English, Irish, and American literature and the aesthetics and practices of reading. His recent books include Speaking of Beauty (Yale 2004), The American Classics (Yale 2005), and On Eloquence (Yale 2008).

Book can be purchased from Powell’s Books and independent booksellers. 


How a Poem Ends

Grace, Fallen from

“The End Inside It,” Marianne Boruch’s essay from the current issue, has been selected as a Prose Feature by Poetry Daily:

Or closure, as it’s called among poets, but not a “we need closure on this” sort of thing, certainly not that cheap and cheesy “because we have to get on with our lives,” though at the end of all poems is the return to the day as it was, its noon light or later, supper and whatever madness long over, reading in bed those few minutes, next to the little table lamp. But to come out of the poem’s tunnel of words—the best way is to be blinking slightly, released from some dark, eyes adjusting, what was ordinary seen differently now. Or not. At times the shift from reading to not reading is so graceful it’s transparent, the poem itself Robert Frost’s “piece of glass” skimmed from winter’s icy drinking trough and held up to melt and melt the real world into real dream, then back, his moment of clarity unto mystery returned to clarity again. Of course, that actual gesture comes early in his “After Apple Picking,” a poem full of what might “trouble” his dreams in the wake of such hard work. Its last line is one low-key gulp, his “Or just some human sleep” itself following something about exhaustion more wistful and weird: “Were he not gone,/The woodchuck could say whether it was like his/Long sleep, as I describe its coming on…” As in—hey! Let’s ask this woodchuck here, shall we?

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