On Imagination, Mary Ruefle
"It is impossible for me to write about the imagination; it is like asking a fish to describe the sea," Ruefle announces before proceeding to do just that. Marshaling Wittgenstein, Jane Goodall, Gertrude Stein, Jesus, and Emily Dickinson, alongside Ukrainian Easter egg dyeing traditions and teddy bear tea parties, Ruefle presents a curio cabinet of the human imagination's boundless forms.
Mary Ruefle is the author of Trances of the Blast (Wave Books, 2013), Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures (Wave Books, 2012), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism, and Selected Poems (Wave Books, 2010), winner of the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. She has published ten books of poetry, 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); she is also an erasure artist, whose treatments of nineteenth century texts have been exhibited in museums and galleries, and published in A Little White Shadow (Wave Books, 2006). Ruefle is the recipient of numerous honors, including the Robert Creeley Award, 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.
Select Praise for Mary Ruefle:
"Through her unique blend of anecdotes and meditations upon subjects ranging from John Keats to Jesus to the Ukrainian art of Easter egg dyeing, Ruefle manages to demonstrate that the act of writing is much more than the solitary task it can sometimes feel like—it is a collaboration between yourself and the world."
—Poets & Writers, "Best Books for Writers"
“[She is] a poet of visionary imagination, abiding sensitivity, and melancholy humor.”
“In her recent work, Ruefle can seem like a supernally well-read person who has grown bored with what smartness looks like, and has grown attracted to the other side.... She is not writing with a prescription, or at least not one for this earth.”
—The New York Times
“No writer...comes close to even trying to articulate the weird magic of poetry as Ruefle does. She acknowledges and celebrates the odd mystery and mysticism of the act—the fact that poetry must both guard and reveal, hint at and pull back.... Also, and maybe most crucially, Ruefle’s work is never once stuffy or overdone: she writes this stuff with a level of seriousness-as-play that’s vital and welcome, that doesn’t make writing poetry sound anything but wild, strange, life-enlargening fun.”
“Ruefle has shown a talent for elevating her acute observations and narrative inclination well above mere anecdote to create quietly disquieting moments—a literature of barbed ambiguity and unresolved disruption.”
“Ruefle is the Poet Laureate of the City of Ideas — surreal and lyrical and deeply moving at the same time.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books
“Ruefle’s speakers muse in a very deliberate, declarative syntax in a lot of universalities, generalities, and absolutes, speaking often for all of us.”
“As a verbal hunter-gatherer, Ruefle is a barometer of our lyric listening. Her poems are sieves of consciousness, catching strangeness and mundanity, the overheard and the under the breath...Ruefle reminds us how odd, synthetic, and arduous it is—the pursuit of this transmission of verbal fact and form. If you want to know how an early 21st-century lyric poem gets made, and how it is tethered to the rhetorics and resources of its time and place, start here.”
“Mary Ruefle is, in this humble bookseller’s opinion, the best prose-writing poet in America.”
"[I] tore through [On Imagination] in a single sitting – during which I took notes, underlined generously, and paused to marvel at how her written experiences were so spot on. . . . I strongly advise teaching this essay if that’s your profession."
—Hyype, "use your noodle: On Imagination"
“For more than thirty years, [Mary Ruefle] has freshened American poetry by humbly glorifying both the inner life and the outward experience.”
—Poetry Society of America
“Mary Ruefle’s careful, measured sentences sound as if they were written by a thousand-year-old person who is still genuinely curious about the world.... [She] combine[s] imagistic techniques from surrealism with narrative techniques to create surprising, high-velocity, and deeply affecting work. This aesthetic has spawned many imitators and variations, but her style is unmistakable.”
“I might say us dreamers have gotten ahold of the essay form. I might speak about how Mary Ruefle’s prose explores the varied experience of singular feeling, feelings within feeling, braiding feelings, feeling slipping into other feelings, feelings inflecting feeling, feeling chasing feeling.... I might talk about how Mary Ruefle’s prose makes you laugh aloud, and, in the same beat, breaks your heart.”
"Thank goodness for Mary Ruefle, who continues to produce strange, perfectly unexpected sentences like, 'I don’t like artificial flowers, but when they look real I fall in love with them,' and 'Artists are just people who have not forgotten how to draw.' A delightful, restless exploration of the meaning of imagination, complete with goats, pie, and Wittgenstein."
—Harvard Book Store