November 13, 2012

Campus welcomes Mary Ruefle

By Genevieve Mills–

Mary Ruefle introduced her poetry by reading another poet’s work, “The Secret Name” by W. S. Graham. The first lines are, “Whatever you’ve come here to get.”

You’ve come to the wrong place,” but if you came to Ekstrom Library’s Bingham Poetry Room to hear interesting poetry read entertainingly by the author herself, you came to exactly the right place.

Ruefle, has written ten books of poetry and flew into Louisville today from Vermont where she lives and teaches. She has won the William Carlos Williams 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, and read her poetry to a crammed-full room in the third and final installment of U of L’s fall 2012 Axton Reading Series on Nov. 9.

Ruefle’s poems, from the ten or so she chose, are on the melancholy side, but she also managed to make her audience laugh several times with surprising lines such as, “Long before Mickey Mouse/ long before his creators added gloves/ so his hands wouldn’t terrify us” from her poem “Sawdust.”

She read one prose piece, an essay titled “Observations on the Ground” about what is buried in the ground, with musings on how our dead, trash and flowers are all connected. The subject may seem depressing but the language was pretty and it contained fresh ideas that made the essay that could’ve been a depressing piece about death into something more.

The first poem she read, “Little Streams” was hard to follow if looking for a concrete subject, but it contained great images such as, “My heart was bright and painful/ like a lobster boiling in the water.” The topics of her poems also varied, with one, “Spider” about a spider’s epic journey crawling up the wall of a shower.

Between poems, Ruefle tended to not give much of an introduction nor did she explain the poems afterwards. However, she stopped reading her own poetry to explain that she thinks handwriting and letters are becoming extinct and she’s mourning this loss, so she has become interested in handwritten things. She brought notes: a journal entry, a syllabus, a recipe she wrote when she was seven and a letter from her great-aunt to her parents. She read all aloud, and the letter from her great-aunt was surprisingly poignant, as her aunt was 92 at the time and, as Ruefle noted “the only thing keeping her alive [was] writing.”

In the question and answer session that followed, Ruefle was asked who she writes to, a question she quickly replied to with “That question always comes up!” Her first answer was a random name and address she made up, but she then wentn on to explain she doesn’t usually have a person in mind, and writes to “everyone and no one.”

Ruefle also made clear her preference for handwriting poems, and said she never writes on a computer. When asked about her preference, she said she loves “the physical motion of my wrist moving on the paper.” As she sees writing as a very intimate process, she likes the intimacy she believes a pen and paper provides. She does not, however, condemn those who type their work, and said it’s a matter of preference, “You have a right to choose what’s best for you.”

Ruefle’s reading was the last of the semester, but the Axton Reading Series will continue in the spring semester of 2013. Dates have yet to be determined and the authors U of L will enjoy are unknown now, but they will be up later on the English department’s website,

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Photos: Ryan Considine/The Louisville Cardinal

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