Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mary Ruefle: Poet and Essayist . . .

David Kirby, poet and professor, has written a New York Times review, "Priests of the Invisible" (January 11, 2013) of the poet Mary Ruefle's recent book of essays, Madness, Rack, and Honey, praising it as "one of the wisest books" that he's read in years, noting:
Typically, she begins a thought with a quotation from a sage ("Gaston Bachelard says the single most succinct and astonishing thing: We begin in admiration and we end by organizing our disappointment"), then develops the thought to give it her own spin (concluding, in the case of Bachelard, that we can at least dignify our dashed hopes "by admiring not the thing itself but how we can organize it, think about it"). Now this sounds like poetry to me . . .
But he also notes, if only implicitly here, that she does not take herself too seriously:
Her title essay begins, "I don't know where to begin because I have nothing to say, yet I know that before long I will sound as if I'm on a crusade."
Nicely ironic! And so is this:
Alternately smart and silly, Ruefle is best when combining those two properties -- dismissing the idea of theme in literature, for instance, by asking what it would be like to organize her books in terms of their themes. (She'd have to buy three copies of some so they'd fit into the different sections of her library, and saw others in half.) Yet at times she lays out ideas with a Zen minimalism, as when she notes the most important fact about our greatest playwright: "In the beginning William Shakespeare was a baby, and knew absolutely nothing. He couldn't even speak."
That Shakespearean fact gives hope to the writer in me. But what was the occasion for these essays? Kirby tells us:
For 15 years Ruefle, a much published poet, gave a lecture every six months to a group of graduate students, and those lectures are collected here.
They sound interesting. I believe I'll need to buy a copy.

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