Cadaver, Speak

Kingsley Tufts Award winner Marianne Boruch displays a quietly gymnastic intellect in the examinations of art, the body, and the human condition that make up her eighth collection. The book is divided into two sections, the first including many ekphrastic poems, invoking Goya, Greek sculpture, and King Tut’s tomb for inspiration, as well as the poet’s own experiences in life-drawing and medical anatomy classes. The second section comprises a single work: the titular thirty-two-part persona poem in which Boruch gives voice to the corpse of a ninety-nine-year-old woman who has donated her body to science and now observes the medical students dissecting her (“too young to be stricken”) with insight and humor. Noting that, of the four cadavers in the lab, she lived the longest, Boruch’s wonderfully complex character quips: “So do I / win something?” If ekphrasis is the book’s dominant mode, then the body is the work to which all else is ultimately compared—and throughout, Boruch concerns herself with the limits and necessity of comparison. “So crucial the model in the life-drawing class,” yet all art, it seems, fails to accurately capture that reality. “ that. The Lie. Like that. The poem.” Yet in her elegant, meticulously crafted sentences, Boruch’s strange syntactic choices do work to illuminate the ineffable, “our precious / everything we ever, layer upon / bright layer.” 

This review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2014.