SING BY THE BURYING GROUND

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An insightful collection of tight essays.

A poet reflects on astonishment.

Boruch describes her 31 short essays as thoughts, “triggered by surprise,” that have collected into unexpected pools: “thought becoming thought in spite of what I may have predicted or never wanted really.” She gives much thought to poets such as Frost, Auden, Plath, Langston Hughes, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, and Seamus Heaney—a list appended to the essays cites many more. Her most lyrical pieces focus on the singularity of particular writers and on poems themselves: how, for example, “a sonnet has some opening jab, heartbeat unto argument, then a turn, a new way to see, a winnowing and an arrival echoed ever since in free verse.” The author recounts pilgrimages “to pay writerly homage” to Theodore Roethke, Keats, and Thomas Merton. At the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, where Merton lived, she spent a week in silence. Some pieces reveal moments of epiphany. The discovery of a souvenir rocking chair inscribed with the initials JFK, for example, elicits the spontaneous interjection “oh,” a sound of “shock, bafflement, heartache, exhaustion, uncertainty, discovery.” At Purdue, where she was teaching, a fellowship in a second discipline allowed her to take a course in life drawing and one in gross human anatomy. There, among dead bodies, she suddenly sensed “the cadaver herself talking to the world,” revealing “her sorrow, her wit, her tenderness, her humility, her steel,” and inspiring Boruch to imagine her in a sequence of poems. She is alert, always, to poems “waiting to be written,” and she quotes George Oppen: “I do not care for systems,” he remarked. “What concerns me is the philosophy of the astonished.” Ruminating about the pandemic, she asks, “Is there a case to be made for poetry in this plague year?” According to these elegant essays, the answer is yes.

An insightful collection of tight essays.

Pub Date: today

ISBN: 9780810146921

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Northwestern Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

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