In the Blue Pharmacy
Essays on Poetry and Other Transformations
A noted poet explores poetry, the writing life, and the poetic imagination
Celebrated poet and essayist Marianne Boruch ponders poets and poetry, examining how the imagination works with mystery and surprise in a variety of writers. Combining a richly associative style with original insights on poetic texts, she brings in material from other worlds—among them, science and music—to demonstrate the myriad ways we transform experience and knowledge.
The sixteen essays here explore poets and poetry, the writing life, and a host of fascinating topics that come into the wide range of Boruch’s attention. She looks at how the imagination works with mystery and surprise in a variety of poets from Elizabeth Bishop to Theodore Roethke, from Russell Edson to Larry Levis, from Walt Whitman to Eavan Boland. She considers how the atomic bomb changed William Carlos Williams’s deepest ambition for poetry, and how Edison’s listening, through his famous deafness, informs our sense of the poetic line. Other essays explore how the car—its danger and solitude—helps us understand American poetry or how Dvořák and Whitman shared darker things than their curious love for trains. Poetry transforms, changing over time in the work of individual poets as well as changing us as we read it or write it.
Boruch’s writing has a kind of musical, incantatory style, creating a mood in which many of her subjects are immersed. Her approach isn’t meant to fix or crystallize her ideas in any hard and fast light, but rather to present the music of her thinking, its movement, its poetry. Boruch brings in personal memory and philosophical speculation, infusing much of this writing with slightly skewed skepticism and rueful uncertainty about one’s ability to be absolute about anything, least of all poetry. She recognizes that much of the process of writing poetry is as mysterious as the power at the heart of a poem, and it’s that mystery that fascinates both the writer and the reader. These essays start in passion and quietude—and curiosity, that willful not knowing, a process similar to how poems themselves begin, and keep going.
“It is rare to open a book, to begin the first sentence, and then want more than anything to burst into the Handel aria that has the line, 'Take me, O take me to your Care.' That is how Marianne Boruch’s books, the poetry and the essays, always make me feel: how grateful I am to be in her company, in her care! In the Blue Pharmacy affords such deep pleasure because, for starters, there is in it the radiance of Boruch’s intelligence, the breadth and depth of her knowledge, the quiet grace of her voice, her understanding of our griefs and joys, and her ability to illuminate a life, a line, a word. Also, she is funny. . . . The reader is in the presence of a master.”
— Jane Hamilton
“Like the best poems, Marianne Boruch's marvelous essays are their unique, intrinsically cherishable selves, as well as potent thunderclaps recalling all of literature's wild, invisible energies.”
— David Kirby