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Purdue's Marianne Boruch On Her Poem, 'Cadaver, Speak'

Poet Marianne Boruch
Marianne Boruch

Marianne Boruch is a poetry professor at Purdue University. She came into the studio recently to talk about her long-form poem called “Cadaver, Speak.” How did a poet came to write about a cadaver of a very old woman? well, that’s the story she shared with Sound Medicine.

Interview highlights

Boruch: I think we’re drawn to poetry because it contains silence. One goes inward to find it and yet it opens us up to the great world. And the subjects you know weigh about a thousand pounds. Time, beauty, love, death, and knowledge. I wanted to surprise myself, to put myself in a situation where I had no idea what would happen and how I would react. Because curiosity is the key thing too. The duty of artists is to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. Purdue has this great fellowship for faculty where we can apply to study in a different discipline. Ideally in a subject completely unrelated to we would normally do or even imagine doing. So I thought what’s the farthest away I can go and still be thrown back on myself and my own silences? So I went to talk to James Walker, the professor of anatomy at IU’s medical school branch on the Purdue campus, where I teach, where I’ve taught for 27 years. For good measure I also asked the artist, Grace Benedict, if I could be a part of her life drawing class, sort of bodies living and dead, a symmetry to that. I thought it was a cool idea for an application. It really wasn’t clever. It turned out to be a great privilege. Really it was a privilege for a semester.

Lewis: Surgeons and other doctors often become accustomed to seeing and handling the parts of the human body that usually lurk unseen, like spinal cords. Was your sense of awe gone by the end of the anatomy class?

Boruch: I read about that. It was so remarkable but of course like anything we get used to things. I remember talking to a friend of mine and my worry about everyone becoming jaded and ho-hum. But a friend of mine said, well isn’t that the point? Isn’t the point to objectify the body in some way so people can do these crucial repairs and so on. It wasn’t ever frightening, it was just surreal for me.