Masterclass with Marianne Boruch


This was another full-day masterclass, focussed on poetry. Boruch had a good humour and was very relaxed. Here are a few notes that I took away from the class.

Boruch talked about keeping an image journal. It ties in with the idea of grounding. Being more observant, getting out of self-involvement, connecting with surroundings. Responding to and engaging with images and senses. I really like the point that writing is about getting yourself ‘out of the way,’ or breaking out of self involvement in order to write stories.

In an essay titled Embarrassed, Boruch mentioned how her mother once told her that ‘we all have a pick of dirt to eat before we die.’ This quote was tied into the idea about how everyone eventually experiences embarrassment and humility. It is a very visceral emotion which becomes humorous to look back upon once it’s over. I like how embarrassment is a chance for light self-deprecation, it doesn’t have to take a dig at anyone and it shows character development.

Boruch talked for a moment about writing in first person perspective. It was in regards to poems but I feel the points she made can cross over into fiction as well. Boruch expressed caution towards using first person perspective as a ‘dear diary’ type of entry. She suggested that the use of the ‘I’ can be a vehicle to abstract a story or make it something larger. I understood this as ‘I’ being like an entry point into a story that goes somewhere further.

A really interesting point that Boruch discussed was how the intentions of stories can change. She recommended that it is worth being open to this, seeing what the piece turns into and going with it. Seeking striking images. Nothing is at stake when you make changes, you can always go back to what it was. Having the curiosity to make a change can be very useful.

Boruch discussed Robert Louis Stevenson’s guidelines for poems which I think are very applicable to short stories and flash fiction. The rules are that a piece must give pleasure, it must become abstract, and it must change. Pleasure can relate to revelling in the subject matter, a point of intrigue, or the style of the writing. Abstract simply relates to being able to expand a story to a larger idea. Change is a point that I thought was really interesting -it relates to taking the reader to another place (figuratively). It could be a change in mood, tone, image. A transportation to an underworld or the negative exposure from a camera flash.

Some final things that I learnt from Boruch’s masterclass were observations about white space. It isn’t something that I’ve really thought about before. White space makes a poem/story longer. This means it can slow the pace, sometimes it can add formality, other times it can convey a sense of deep thought. Thinking about white space is a small thing which will be nice to consider when editing final drafts of stories.


Frank Sinclair lives in Wellington with a grumpy cat called Pushkin. They studied English Literature and Creative Writing at Victoria University.