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Mary Ruefle

1952–

Mary Ruefle was born in Pennsylvania in 1952. Her father was a military officer, and she spent her early life traveling throughout the United States and Europe. She graduated from Bennington College in 1974 with a degree in literature.

Ruefle has published many books of poetry, including most recently Dunce (Wave Books, 2019), longlisted for the 20199 National Book Award in Poetry; My Private Property (Wave Books, 2016); Trances of the Blast (Wave Books, 2013); A Little White Shadow (2006), an art book of “erasures," a variation on found poetry; The Adamant (1989), winner of the 1988 Iowa Poetry Prize; and Memling’s Veil (University of Alabama Press, 1982).

She is also the author of a book of collected lectures, Madness, Rack, and Honey (Wave Books, 2012); a book of prose, The Most of It (Wave Books, 2008); and a comic book, Go Home and Go To Bed (Pilot Books/Orange Table Comics, 2007).

About Ruefle’s poems, the poet Tony Hoagland has said, “Her work combines the spiritual desperation of Dickinson with the rhetorical virtuosity of Wallace Stevens. The result (for those with ears to hear) is a poetry at once ornate and intense; linguistically marvelous, yes, but also as visceral as anything you are likely to encounter.”

Ruefle is the recipient of numerous honors, including an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Whiting Award. She lives in Bennington, Vermont, and teaches in the MFA program at Vermont College.



Bibliography

Poetry

Dunce (Wave Books, 2019)
My Private Property (Wave Books, 2016)
Trances of the Blast (Wave Books, 2013)
Selected Poems (Wave Books, 2010)
Indeed I Was Pleased with the World (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2007)
A Little White Shadow (Wave Books, 2006)
Tristimania (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 2003)
Among the Musk Ox People (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2002)
Apparition Hill (CavanKerry Press, 2001)
Post Meridian (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2000)
Cold Pluto (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1996)
The Adamant (University of Iowa Press, 1989)
Life Without Speaking (University of Alabama Press, 1987)
Memling’s Veil (University of Alabama Press, 1982)

Prose
On Imagination (Sarabande Books, 2017)
Madness, Rack, and Honey (Wave Books, 2012)
The Most of It (Wave Books, 2008)

Mary Ruefle
Photo credit: Michelle Eikenbary

By This Poet

11

The Letter


Beloved, men in thick green coats came crunching
through the snow, the insignia on their shoulders
of uncertain origin, a country I could not be sure of,
a salute so terrifying I heard myself lying to avoid
arrest, and was arrested along with Jocko, whose tear
had snapped off, a tiny icicle he put in his mouth.
We were taken to the ice prison, a palace encrusted
with hoarfrost, its dome lit from within, Jocko admired
the wiring, he kicked the walls to test the strength
of his new boots. A television stood in a block of ice,
its blue image still moving like a liquid center.
You asked for my innermost thoughts. I wonder will I
ever see a grape again? When I think of the vineyard
where we met in October-- when you dropped a cluster
custom insisted you be kissed by a stranger-- how after
the harvest we plunged into a stream so icy our palms
turned pink. It seemed our future was sealed. Everyone
said so. It is quiet here. Not closing our ranks
weakens us hugely. The snowflakes fall in a featureless
bath. I am the stranger who kissed you. On sunny days
each tree is a glittering chandelier. The power of
mindless beauty! Jocko told a joke and has been dead
since May. A bullethole in his forehead the officers
call a third eye. For a month I milked a barnful of
cows. It is a lot like cleansing a chandelier. Wipe
and polish, wipe and polish, round and round you go.
I have lost my spectacles. Is the book I was reading
still open by the side of our bed? Treat it as a bookmark
saving my place in our story.

(here the letter breaks off)

Sentimental Education


Ann Galbraith
loves Barry Soyers.

Please pray for Lucius Fenn
who suffers greatly whilst shaking hands.

Bonny Polton
loves a pug named Cowl.

Please pray for Olina Korsk
who holds the record for missing fingers.

Leon Bendrix loves Odelia Jonson
who loves Kurt who loves Carlos who loves Paul.

Please pray for Cortland Filby
who handles a dead wasp, a conceit for his mother.

Harold loves looking at Londa's hair under the microscope.
Londa loves plaiting the mane of her pony.

Please pray for Fancy Dancer
who is troubled by the vibrissa in his nostrils.

Nadine St. Clair loves Ogden Smythe
who loves blowing his nose on postage stamps.

Please pray for William Shakespeare
who does not know how much we love him, miss him and think of him.

Yukiko Pearl loves the little bits of toffee
that fall to the floor when Jeffrey is done with his snack.

Please pray for the florist Marieko
who wraps roses in a paper cone then punches the wrong code.

Muriel Frame loves retelling the incident
that happened on the afternoon of November third.

Please pray for our teacher Ursula Twombly
who does not know the half of it.

By the radiator in a wooden chair
wearing woolen stockings sits a little girl
in a dunce's cap, a paper cone rolled to a point
and inverted on her hair; she's got her hands
in her lap and her head bowed down, her chin
is trembling with having been singled out like this
and she is sincere in her fervent wish to die.

Take it away and give it to the Tartars
who roll gloriously into battle.

The Daze


It was one of those mornings the earth seemed
not to have had any rest at all, her face dour
and unrefreshed, no particular place-- subway,
park-- expressed sufficient interest in present circumstances
though flowers popped up and tokens
dropped down, deep in the turnstiles. And from
the dovecots nothing was released or killed.
No one seemed to mind, though everyone noticed.
If the alphabet died-- even the o collapsing, the l
a lance in its groin-- what of it? The question
'krispies, flakes or loops?'-- always an indicator of
attention-- took a turn for the worse, though crumpets
could still be successfully toasted: machines worked,
the idiom death warmed over was in use. By noon,
postage stamps were half their width and worth
but no one stopped licking. Neutrinos passed,
undetected. Corpulent clouds formed in the sky.
Tea was served at four. When the wind blew off a shingle
or two, like hairs, and the scalp of the house began
to howl, not a roofer nailed it down. That was that.
When the moon came out and glowed like a night light
loose in its socket, no one was captious, cautious or wise,
though the toes of a few behaved strangely in bed--
they peeped out of the blankets like insects' antennae,
then turned into periscopes scouting to see
if the daze that was morning had actually managed to doze.

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