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Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page BW12

Attention is a beautiful thing, and much in demand. Probably more of us want it than know how to give it. Marianne Boruch's recent Poems: New and Selected has the wonderful, commanding power of true attention: She sees and considers with intensity. Her poems often give fresh examples of how rare and thrilling it can be to notice.

Trusting observation, having the ideas and feelings emerge as continuations of that action of noticing -- where others might force a sentiment or a bit of philosophizing onto things -- may be a mark of genuine poetry.

For instance, one of the new poems in the book, "Near Halloween," observes an image that nearly teases us with its invitation to some glib notion or lofty flight: some lunge toward Meaning. Boruch gets the emotional charge from an opposite gesture, a movement to the most ordinary language, the deceptively casual formulas of "it's not that" and "it could be." The quietness of the phrases lets the perception itself grow larger.

Near Halloween

Like a bad thought, someone else's

bad thought, it hangs

by the neck -- stuffed jeans

and flannel shirt, the pillowcase head

grinning, before

it lops over

Student neighborhood. Which

jubilant drunk hoisted this thing

last night, from porch to star-eyed gable,

a toast: all sadness in the world -- ha!

all misery -- ha! -- to you and you and damn you!

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