Kelly Vaughan ’17
“I don’t find inspiration. Inspiration finds me.” On Tuesday, Nov. 15, Mary Ruefle spoke in a room filled with about 60 people as part of the English Department’s A.K. Smith Reading Series: a sequence of poets, essayists, and fiction writers who come to campus each semester to read their work. Ruefle is a 21st century poet who lives in Vermont, has full-bodied red hair, and speaks every word as if she is reciting a poem on the spot: slow, melodic, and exquisite. She has published 11 collections of poems, two collections of prose, and two comic books.
Trinity College’s Artist-in-Residence Clare Rossini introduced Ruefle, calling her the “most original poet of her generation.” She added that reading a Ruefle poem “is like entering a dark house or a marketplace on a continent you’ve never been to, perhaps didn’t know existed…anything could happen, anything could appear.”
Ruefle read a number of her poems, including “Genesis,” “Dunce,” “Cracker Bell,” “The Last Supper,” “The Cake,” and “Tuna and a Play.” She knew there was a member of Trinity’s Football Team in the crowd and read her poem, “Superbowl” specifically for him.
One of the most unique qualities about Ruefle is her adamant committemnt to not using any technology; no computer, no cell phone, nothing to distract her from her surroundings. Ruefle said she wants to be able to dictate what she pays attention to and focus on, rather than having something like the media dictate that for her. Her reflective manner and acute observations are evident in her work.
Ruefle is not only funny, but has a sense of humor about her own craft – one that many people don’t understand and underestimate. She noted that she has a poem titled “Happy Birthday,” and always asks the crowd if it is anyone’s birthday so that she can read it to them. When no one responded or raised their hand, she remarked, “No one in their right mind would attend a poetry reading on their birthday,” making light of her career. This same humor can be seen in her own poems, as she grapples with the world around her by analyzing, for example, the creation of both Mickey Mouse and Jesus in her poem, “Sawdust.”
Ruefle ended the reading by reciting a memoir prose piece written by a prisoner, as part of a contest for the organization PEN, a prison writing program. She encouraged the audience to correspond with a prisoner through this organization, saying that “they are terribly lonely for the outside world.” The simplicity of the memoir illustrates just how sad and lonely the prisoner’s life seems. The contest winner titled his memoir “Letter to my Grandnephew” read, “I have written 721 pages of letters to you. It is possible to chew a piece of celery forever, because its cellulose does not break down. A British guy won the Tour de France this year…” Ruefle saw this language in this memoir as particularly poetic and chose to include it in the reading for that reason.
The last writer in the A.K. Smith Reading Series is Paul Yoon who will be on campus Dec. 8.