Tonight I’d like to recommend some summer reading. I’ve long admired Marianne Boruch as a poet. Her work is beautiful, quirky, wonderful to read aloud, and absolutely her own. Her poem “Still Life,” from Grace, Fallen from, for instance, is one of my favorites. (And what a great book title.) It’s hard to quote from without just giving you the whole poem, because where to stop? But here’s how it begins:
Someone arranged them in 1620.
Someone found the rare lemon and paid
a lot and neighbored it next
to the plain pear, the plain
apple of the lost garden, the glass
of wine, set down mid-sip—
don’t drink it, someone said, it’s for
the painting. And the rabbit skull—
whose idea was that? There had been
a pistol but someone was told, no,
put that away, into the box with a key
though the key had been
misplaced now for a year. …
This gives you a sense of how her work can move very swiftly from thought to thought across the lines. It’s associative, makes leaps—and that “don’t drink it… it’s for / the painting” and the way the people here, their impulses and actions, are a little scattered, a little inappropriate almost, and funny-sad, is all quintessentially her.
But what I also especially want to recommend here is her memoir, The Glimpse Traveler, about a nine-day hitchhiking trip to California in the 1970s. Written in 77 short chapters, each just a page or two, The Glimpse Traveler reads like a series of prose poems, or postcards from a different world (the American counterculture) and a different time (the 1970s, but also that time in life when you’re 20 years old and struggling to find your place in the world).
These many brief chapters add up; they tell the story in flashes of action and emotion, illumination. But this is prose written by a poet. Which is to say, you should read for language—the sounds of her sentences, their rhythms—as much as for plot.
Here’s how the first chapter starts:
No plan that Thursday but a big breakfast—eggs, toast. The classic college boyfriend’s apartment: milling about and underfoot, one or two other boys and their maybe girls. A straggly neighbor born Harold, called Chug, forever turning up to make a point then stopping mid-sentence. Someone’s cousin crashed there for a week. Someone’s half-sister from Cincinnati figuring out her life. Not to mention the dog, the cat, and nothing picked up off the floor, no sink or toilet cleaned in how long. Books read and loved and passed on, dope smoked or on a windowsill….
You can read the first four chapters here. But better yet, go buy the book.