Posts Tagged ‘Mary Ruefle’

‘Dunce’, the Poems of Mary Ruefle – Explaining the Inexplicable


‘Dunce’, poems by Mary Ruefle (2019) – 96 pages


Playful and profound. That’s a good combination. And Mary Ruefle pulls it off in her poems.

Here are some rather typical lines of Mary Ruefle, from the poem “Tuna and a Play”:

Earlier I picked grasses with J.

Blue grass, pink grass, silver grass,

We each carried a bouquet.

I asked J. if she was happy to be human –

J., are you glad to be a human?

But she couldn’t say;

She walked through the grasses

for what seemed like a day,”

We can be happy as long as we don’t question it. I’m one of those who believes good poetry, actually good anything, is visceral. Reason and analytical thinking only take you so far, no farther. Beyond that, there is an intuitive gap that must be jumped by any simple means necessary, the simpler, the better.

Thus we have the poetry of Mary Ruefle. I will use her short poem “Sequoia” as an example.

I keep some moss in a bowl

Tiny unreal deer there

looking out over the hills for some water.”

What do you see when you look into a bowl of moss? Probably something that looks like green vegetation or rocks, but you probably don’t see tiny deer looking out over the hills for some water.

At the black glass lake

Alone at the edge

I stand shaking myself out

didn’t think to bring a towel.”

Standing by a lake, Mary has plenty of water, so much that she could have brought a towel.

In nearly every poem, Mary Ruefle goes that extra step beyond reason to really communicate with us. I found that I needed to be in the right frame of mind to truly appreciate these poems. Sometimes I could pick up the book, and none of the poems made much sense to me. Other times I would pick up the book and every poem hit home.

At one point in the poem “A Late Dense Work”, Mary is her harshest critic:

Do you want I should make

some rapt contemplation

descending into useless particulars?”

I must say that when I read the poems of Mary Ruefle, I get the same feeling I get when I read the poems of Robert Frost. There’s something there, and it’s often inexplicable. She starts with a bowl of moss and winds up somewhere else entirely.

‘Dunce’ is a collection of poems that one can keep coming back to and get something else each time.

‘Tis a gift to be simple.


Grade:    A



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