What Sparks Poetry

Ecopoetry Now

What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature that explores experiences and ideas that spark the writing of new poems.

In Ecopoetry Now, invited poets engage in an ecopoetic conversation across borders. In poems and poetics statements, their work describes important local differences, including bioregion and language, as well as a shared concern for the Earth. We hope to highlight poetry’s integral role in creating and sustaining a broadly ecological imagination that is most alive when biologically, culturally, and linguistically diverse.

Marianne Boruch on “So we get there just as”

This poem continues to haunt me, the first note of four small pieces spoken/sung/dreamt, an almost-musical refrain really because this roadkill emu comes back three times later in Bestiary Dark, my recent collection, to speak from the dead via the most ancient call and response, her voice back and forth with—well, I have no notion who her interlocutor might be.

But that emu, my experience seeing her, slowly became grounding and lens for the poems coming out of the five months I observed the natural world as a Fulbright Research Scholar in 2019 in a most astonishing country. Which included the Australian outback—real. The shocking particulars in this case, that massive wrench—real; that hit-and-run driver—despicably real; our stunned helplessness—real. And certainly real the emu’s terrible ooaa as the stopped trucker came down hard to end that creature’s misery, her repeated sound more real to me as weeks and months passed allowing the poem to emerge. The pain of that witnessing is seed and keeps growing. Now I understand that shattered emu as the heart and conscience of the book. As I wrote, there she was again and again and again: pissed, calm, visionary, fierce, a bit of a smart-ass. But she was solace. I stepped aside. I left her to it.

Certain phrases stop me cold and I wonder where they come from. In this initial piece of that small worldly/otherworldly series, our trying to reach her did feel “medieval as prayer,” the truth of that. (Perhaps only the long-lapsed pre-Vatican II Catholic in me can claim such a thing.) Or the fact that wind in the outback is never a “broken hinge,” not a “crying out,” and how violence can be an act of kindness. The raw power of image…. Words came later, by accident in a silent room at a desk. But back there, one afternoon in that desolate expanse my husband and I and a stranger, the three of us came together over that creature stricken by a fellow human we desperately wanted to disown, a driver hot to desecrate the planet. I can’t tell you the rage in me as that car grew smaller and smaller then slipped into nothing’s pure distance. The mechanized world meets our vast indifference. Old news, sure.

But aren’t poems a sinking in, so often a sudden—if passing—clarity? One small grim detail of a global tragedy bottled and corked and with whatever dark luck sent off to sea to the right person by way of those life-brimming waters.

Every poem is finally about poetry itself. Maybe a stay against the hopelessness of writing poems at all. Does it even qualify as hope—to hope that?

I can say we stopped our car. We watched that most beautiful creature lift its head, splayed out bloody on the road. We watched her try and try to rejoin the living as if our company mattered though of course it did not. That’s the second definition of grief.

Writing Prompt


I don’t believe in prompts. But I do believe in begging bowls. (Hence the Emu arrived.)

The challenge of poems is to be very quiet unto empty, go blank, put out said begging bowl—for an image, a flash of memory, a turn of phrase out of the great nowhere—then give yourself to it, having NO agenda except to keep as unnoticed as possible as amazed or heartsick you follow it, line triggering the next line, a turn of mind into a raw first draft.

Come up for air. Then stare at that poem each day for weeks, months even, reading it aloud (our ears being smarter than we are). Be patient—at the start and over time. It is not you. It has its own life. Let the poem reveal itself to you. Add or subtract = revision. Or do nothing at all to it. I call that my hospital rounds.

— Marianne Boruch

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Marianne Boruch

Marianne Boruch has published ten books of poems, most recently The Anti-Grief (Copper Canyon, 2020), three essay collections, including The Little Death of Self (Michigan, 2017), and a memoir, The Glimpse Traveler (Indiana, 2011). Her work appears in The New York Review of Books, Poetry, The New Yorker, American Poetry Review. Her honors include the Kingsley-Tufts Award, plus fellowships/residencies from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEA, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, two national parks (Denali and Isle Royale). Boruch taught at Purdue University for 31 years, going rogue and emeritus in 2018. She continues to teach in the low-residency MFA Program at Warren Wilson College.