Known for her light-handed concision, her strange imagination, and her ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, Wave poet and essayist Mary Ruefle has published over ten collections of poetry, including the highly anticipated Dunce (2019).
Caitlin Youngquist, for The Paris Review, observes the koan-like quality of Mary Ruefle’s poetry and prose, noting how the author “muses on ordinary things like keys or clouds, yellow scarves or golf pencils, until those descriptions unfurl and beget larger, existential meditations on sadness and boredom, on language and lullabies and autonomy in old age.”
Ruefle has written numerous books of poetry, which all play with this existential strangeness, and straddle the line between the dark and the comic. Her debut collection of prose, The Most Of It, appeared in 2008, and her stunning collection of lectures, Madness, Rack, and Honey, was published in August 2012—over the course of fifteen years, Ruefle delivered a lecture every six months to a group of poetry graduate students, and this culminating work became a finalist for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award.
A Little White Shadow (2006), her book of erasures—found texts in which all but a few words have been erased from the page—is a practice that reveals what Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, called “haiku-like minifables, sideways aphorisms, and hauntingly perplexing koans.” Erasure is a regular practice for Ruefle, who has said in an interview with Front Porch Journal, “Erasures make me happier than anything in the world. I’d rather talk about them than poetry any day.”
Ruefle released My Private Property in 2018. Comprised of short prose pieces, My Private Property “recalls fables, in that contained narratives and simple premises turn to reveal something of the human predicament. But far from offering moral instruction, Ruefle tunes into an unsettling and enlivening strangeness” (Publishers Weekly).
Wave Books, the publisher of Ruefle’s forthcoming collection, describes her latest work as such: “In Dunce Mary Ruefle returns to the poetic practice that has always been at her core. With her startlingly fresh sensibility, she enraptures us in poem after poem by the intensity of her attention, with the imaginative flourishes of her being-in-the-world, always deep with mysteries, unexpected appearances, and abiding yearning.”
Ruefle has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as a Whiting Writers’ Award and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry, Great American Prose Poems (2003), American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets (2006), and The Next American Essay (2002).
Ruefle was born outside Pittsburgh, but she spent her youth moving around the United States and Europe with her military family. She received a B.A. in Literature from Bennington College and has taught at Vermont College of Fine Arts and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Vermont.