Notes While Reading Mary Ruefle

Notes while reading Mary Ruefle

Notes on poetry from Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack and Honey

opening of poem is like finding fruit on the ground and then imagining the tree from which it grew (maybe Valery)

poem is an act of mind

poem begins off the page

Stevens, “Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction,” three principles of poetry: it must be abstract, it was change and it must give pleasure.

Shelley: “The words I, and you and they  are grammatical devices invented simply for arrangement and totally devoid of the intense and exclusive sense usually attributed to them.”

John Gardner:  sentimentality is “causeless emotion”  I used to say it was falsification of emotion.

Baudelaire said: “poets possess the ability to be vividly interested in things, even those that appear most trivial”

Keats said only one thing was necessary to write good poetry: “a feeling for light and shade”

for Stevens, it is a “passion for restraint”

read Witold Gombrowicz “Against Poets”

no one in their right mind understands a poem when it is read aloud

melancholy: sorrows without a name

Wordsworth: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, and though this be true, poems to which any value can be attached were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply.”  [that is the entire quote]

Robin Behn:  “I want more than poignant stories.”

Henri Bergson:  “No image can replace the intuition [of being], but many diverse images, borrowed from many different orders of things, may, by the convergence of their action, direct consciousness to the precise point where there is a certain intuition to be seized.”

Pound on the image: “that which presents an  intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time”

Aristotle: “the mark of the poet is to see a connection between apparently incongruous things”

Claude Lévy-Strauss, from Tristes Tropiques: “The possibility, vital for life, of unhitching, which consists …in grasping, during the brief intervals in which our species can bring itself to interrupt its hive-like activity, the essence of what it was and continues to be, below the threshold of thought and over and above society;  in the contemplation of a mineral more beautiful than all our creations; in the scent that can be smelt at the heart of a lily and is more imbued with learning that all our books; or in the brief glance, heavy with patience,  serenity and mutual forgiveness, that, through some involuntary understanding, one can sometimes exchange with a cat.”

Mary Ruefle: “In a culture based on the proliferation of choice, even one’s outward appearance, whether or not you are conscious of it, whether or not you care, is interpreted by the public as a decision. Please do not misunderstand me: you may not have had a choice, but the public is going to assume you made one.”

I continue to write because I have not yet heard what I have been listening to.

the secret within us

she writes that poetry and sex “do not have a value dependent upon the consequences of furthering anything outside themselves, though of course they can do that….”

when the secret is exposed we look away; when the secret is hidden we try to see it

“Poetry is NEVER coded—it is NEVER a covert operation whose information is ciphered and must be deciphered—and yet it does incline toward self-concealment, insofar as it concentrates intently on what words conceal, or, to put it another way, on what language seeks to reveal.” 

think about etymology.

consider once meant “to observe the stars”

comphrension: “to grasp, to seize something by the hands and hold it tight in the arms” (like a child)  this was to comprehend

the astronomer looks through his telescope, considers the stars, and embraces the universe in the closed space of his mind.

the two sides of the poem are the told and the untold

words do not “capture” the moment so much as they “communicate it”

Collette called the poem “that secret, that dried rose, that scar, that sin”

like a long kept corsage, the poem is likely to fall apart if you touch it

valery: the mind’s fecundity depends upon the unexpected rather than the expected, on what we do not know (and because we do not know it)


  1. Thank you for extracting these notes from her book. Inspires me to return to the pages I left.
    Thank you for so many gifts this week, Carolyn. Your are not only a poet of amazing power, but a master teacher. Such a rare combination.

  2. Be sure to check out her redactions. They are wonderful, and speak very much to the idea of what language to reveal, what to conceal: