Prolific poet and educator Mary Ruefle is a professor of English in the M.F.A. program at Vermont College. In addition to appearing in several anthologies, Ruefle's works have won her numerous prizes and prestigious fellowships, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a Guggenheim fellowship, and an American Academy of Arts and Letters award in literature.
In Cold Pluto, the "audacious" Ruefle "writes lyrical poetry that stays afloat above the riptides of intense emotion by virtue of fierce concentration on strong images," observed Peter Harris in the Virginia Quarterly Review. In the poem "Peeling the Orange," for example, she turns the act into a symbolic experience in which the peel resembles "Pile of hides. Strips & scraps of flannel," and in which the small spray of juice becomes a "burst of mist, an aerosol attempt / at speaking." In "Merinque," the poet asks a series of questions, those early in the sequence seemingly mundane, but each fixing a distinct, emotionally charged and physically focused moment or activity: "Did you rip up the photo? / Did you pick up the baby / And kiss its forehead? / Did you drive into a deer?" Each question is "poignant in its evanescence, but overwhelming unless we understand what principle links them," Harris commented. "Have you been born?," the poet asks, bringing into focus a theme of living a rich and fulfilled life, and experiencing all the small and simple acts and sensations it provides. In the final lines, the poem embraces the mundane aspects of mortality: "What book will you be reading when you die? / If it's a good one, you won't finish it. / If it's a bad one, what a shame." This poem, like others of Ruefle's works, "are about living one's life with great intensity, with interrogative adamancy; they challenge us more or less literate readers, drowsed by the fume of poppies, to wake up before we're beheaded," Harris concluded.
The collection titled Post Meridian contains "short, elegantly worked poems" paired on facing pages by subject, frame of reference, or poetic style, observed a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. Carefully constructed "patterns of sound" serve to "seduce the reader away from the hunt for logical development" within the works, the reviewer added. In one poem the lines, "The circle of flame over the stove / is blue and I walk towards it. / Picking a thread from my mouth," inspired the Publishers Weekly reviewer to conclude that readers "will find ample verbal threads here for their own happy picking."
Ruefle's collection Tristimania "keeps the whimsy" of many of her earlier works while adding "a strong undertone of bleak regret," noted another Publishers Weekly contributor. The poems contemplate the poet's failures at other undertakings; the sadness...