Ruefle, Mary 1952-

views updated

RUEFLE, Mary 1952-

PERSONAL: Born 1952.

ADDRESSES: Office—c/o Author Mail, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 5032 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15289-1021.

CAREER: Poet and educator. Vermont College, Bennington, professor.

AWARDS, HONORS: Iowa Poetry Prize, 1988, for The Adamant; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship; Guggenheim fellowship; American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature; Whiting Foundation Writer's Award.



Memlings Veil, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1982.

Life without Speaking, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1987.

The Adamant, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 1989.

Cold Pluto, Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1996.

Post Meridian, Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1999.

Apparition Hill, CavanKerry Press (Fort Lee, NJ), 2002.

Among the Musk Ox People, Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 2002.

Tristimania, Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 2003.

Author's works have been anthologized in volumes such as Best American Poetry, The Extraordinary Tide, and Great American Prose Poems.

SIDELIGHTS: Prolific poet and educator Mary Ruefle is a professor of English in the M.F.A. program at Vermont College. In addition to appearing in several anthologies, Ruefle's works have won her numerous prizes and prestigious fellowships, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a Guggenheim fellowship, and an American Academy of Arts and Letters award in literature.

In Cold Pluto, the "audacious" Ruefle "writes lyrical poetry that stays afloat above the riptides of intense emotion by virtue of fierce concentration on strong images," observed Peter Harris in the Virginia Quarterly Review. In the poem "Peeling the Orange," for example, she turns the act into a symbolic experience in which the peel resembles "Pile of hides. Strips & scraps of flannel," and in which the small spray of juice becomes a "burst of mist, an aerosol attempt/at speaking." In "Merinque," the poet asks a series of questions, those early in the sequence seemingly mundane, but each fixing a distinct, emotionally charged and physically focused moment or activity: "Did you rip up the photo?/Did you pick up the baby/And kiss its forehead?/Did you drive into a deer?" Each question is "poignant in its evanescence, but overwhelming unless we understand what principle links them," Harris commented. "Have you been born?," the poet asks, bringing into focus a theme of living a rich and fulfilled life, and experiencing all the small and simple acts and sensations it provides. In the final lines, the poem embraces the mundane aspects of mortality: "What book will you be reading when you die?/If it's a good one, you won't finish it./If it's a bad one, what a shame." This poem, like others of Ruefle's works, "are about living one's life with great intensity, with interrogative adamancy; they challenge us more or less literate readers, drowsed by the fume of poppies, to wake up before we're beheaded," Harris concluded.

The collection titled Post Meridian contains "short, elegantly worked poems" paired on facing pages by subject, frame of reference, or poetic style, observed a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. Carefully constructed "patterns of sound" serve to "seduce the reader away from the hunt for logical development" within the works, the reviewer added. In one poem the lines "The circle of flame over the stove/is blue and I walk towards it./Picking a thread from my mouth," inspiring the Publishers Weekly reviewer to conclude that readers "will find ample verbal threads here for their own happy picking."

Ruefle's collection Tristimania "keeps the whimsy" of many of her earlier works while adding "a strong undertone of bleak regret," noted another Publishers Weekly critic. The poems contemplate the poet's failures at other undertakings; the sadness of those close to her; and her "wonderment, that the world was full/of so many absent things." Ruefle's longtime readers "might sense more depth here, if a more constrained range," the critic reviewer remarked.

A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the poems collected in Among the Musk Ox People to be "fast-moving" and "jittery," observing that, "in fluently unpredictable free verse (mostly) and discursive poetic prose (on occasion), Ruefle's work can take in almost anything, the more unexpected the better." The collection "teems with questions, from arch to heartfelt to zealous," remarked Poetry reviewer Steven Cramer. Ruefle's intense interrogatories are part of her process of throwing off "stale literary conventions" within her work with a set of techniques that also include "cultivat[ing] a sense of the absurd" where needed, Cramer added. The poet "initiates her best poems with a charged event; a fresh, apt image; a statement with something at stake, then accelerates into the turns," the critic continued, citing the opening lines of the poem "Blood Soup": "The last time I saw father alive he was using/a black umbrella, closed, to beat off some pigeons." Ruefle's "more serious side continues to give her work depth and necessity," the Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded of Ruefle's expanding oeuvre.



Ruefle, Mary, Among the Musk Ox People, Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 2002.

Ruefle, Mary, Cold Pluto, Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1996.

Ruefle, Mary, Post Meridian, Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1999.

Ruefle, Mary, Tristimania, Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 2003.


Poetry, July, 2003, Steven Cramer, review of Among the Musk Ox People, p. 211.

Publishers Weekly, March 31, 1989, Penny Kaganoff, review of The Adamant, p. 53; January 10, 2000, review of Post Meridian, p. 58; March 18, 2002, review of Among the Musk Ox People, p. 94; February 23, 2004, review of Tristimania, p. 67.

Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 1997, Peter Harris, review of Cold Pluto, p. 680.


Academy of American Poets Web site, (December 5, 2004), "Mary Ruefle."*