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Dissecting the selected
Mary Ruefle’s new Selected Poems, gathered from her ten books of poetry, is a well-curated collection with a smattering of art references, a sprinkle of airy humor, and a pinch of the biblical. Find out why Jeannine Hall Gailey of the Rumpus most appreciates Ruefle’s work for “guiding a reader through the writer’s lively imagination.”
Her work has something in common with John Ashbery’s, in that Ruefle’s signature move is to begin in one place, and then whimsically wander off to a completely different subject by poem’s end. But where Ashbery seeks to explore the world, Ruefle’s work is more interior, often examining childhood or her own (and the reader’s) narrative expectations. For instance, in one of my favorite poems, “Lapland,” though the speaker appears to be examining a photograph, there are echoes of the Hans Christian Anderson’s story “The Snow Queen,” in which the young heroine must travel through Lapland with the aid of a reindeer to rescue a young boy. Ruefle’s interest shifts from “the little Lapp girl” to the actual geography of Lapland, the flora and fauna:
The little Lapp girl wanders around picking cloudberries
while the bluethroat sings one of his hundred songs.
There are tiny white flowers, too: angelica,
and the wild white rununculus.
The reindeer eat lichen and moss under the melting snow.
Some of the lichen are a thousand years old
and do not recognize the modern world.