Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mary Reufle: Madness, Rack, and Honey

My copy is my copy. You can't have it.

Reading Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey, there’s a lot to love.  It’s the kind of book that I feel at times is reading my mind, and then at other times I feel is visiting from outer space. 

So much so, that when I got to the part where she mentions losing her old copy of Modern European Poetry, I went to my bookshelf and briefly contemplated sending her mine.  But then I thought, “Why on earth would I part with this book?”  Mine’s held together by tape.  I’m sure Ruefle would not only understand, but agree with me keeping it.  It’s been an important book for me.  In fact, that’s one fo the things I really like about Madness, Rack, and Honey.  Many of the books she talks about loving are also books I love.  (Except when it gets to novels.  I’m not much for novels.)

It’s a fragmentary text, so that when I go back to it to find a moment I want to re-read, I end up getting lost.  But that turns out OK, too, as I get lost in a place of finding helpful things.  I went back to find the passage on Modern European Poetry, and couldn’t find it.  Instead, I found other moments well worth mentioning:

She mentions on page 133 a feeling she had one time, a dark night of the soul moment, that I think all poets need to have at some point: “I felt, for a while, that I was wasting my life making idle comparisons between things that could not and need not be compared.”  I had a similar moment ten or so years ago, and it reminds me of an interview I read recently with the poet Timothy Donnelly, where he states:

“Now I worry that when I sit down I’m thinking whether what I’m writing is going to tap into the zeitgeist. I’m fearful that I’ll start censoring myself if something doesn’t participate in that kind of a conversation. I don’t want to sit down and write poems that have a secular piety to them, trying to solve the next big crisis — it seems very artificial to me. So I’m trying to disable that. I want the next poems I write to be ridiculous, over the top, appalling — poems that don’t overannounce their moral sensitivity. When you see poetry contenting itself with small things, that can be frustrating too. A lot of poetry today seems to me to be just dicking around with voice — being charming or superficially Ashberyesque.”

It’s all part of the same economy, how one feels about what one is doing, what one wants to do, wants NOT to do.  The pitfalls of reductive earnestness on the one hand and futile superficiality on the other.  It’s not an either-or thing though, as much as we like to frame it that way.  There are other options, there always are.  But I think it’s healthy to have personal conceptions of both these locations, and to worry about falling into each/either.  Also, though, I think it’s profitable to risk both of them, both these locations.  It’s important to know yourself, to know that, as Ruefle says, these moves, these poems might just be “idle comparisons between things that could not and need not be compared.”  And then to risk that, to go to the edge of comparability, and over the edge, just as it’s important to go to the edge and over, into announcements of moral sensitivity as well as “just dicking around with voice.”  And then, of course, where you decide you’ve made bad art, to put it in a drawer.  And where you decide others have made bad art, you turn from them, as Ruefle writes:

“I remember the day I stood in front of a great, famous sculpture by a great, famous sculptor and didn’t like it.”  It was Rodin, and she later felt vindicated by reading an essay by John Berger on Rodin.  That’s the first move, but what I like even more, is Ruefle’s second move, after her thrill of vindicaion:

“I remember thinking my feelings implicated me with Rodin and though now I liked him less than ever, my repulsion was braided with a profound sympathy inseparable from my feelings for myself.”


At 1/30/2013 9:16 AM, Blogger princess kanomanom said...

Funny: as you were writing this post, I was commenting on a previous post of yours w/ a Ruefle quote from M, R, and H.

Nice. Love the book to pieces, too.

At 1/30/2013 9:38 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I saw that pop in to my email and thought it was in response to this post!

Absolutely excellent boo, yes.

At 1/31/2013 7:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really good post, John. I really like that last part on Rodin, and can/could relate.

The gist of the anecdote could very easily become, I suppose, as our lexicon evolves and/or society matures, finds itself more proficiently verbotin, a new kind way to explain our ever-present dilemna, a la, I'm totally screwed or I'm totally hosed ...

I feel Ruefle's (or spellit) pain.

Totally Rodined. That's me,


At 1/31/2013 7:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Verboten, verb-schmoten, and whatever other errors escaped me. Screw you, spellchecker. And hat's off to Mary Ruefle. Best,


At 1/31/2013 8:12 AM, Anonymous annette said...

About losing a book -- 'tis noble of you to entertain (even if only briefly) the notion of replacing it for her, but I totally understand why you chose not to. :)

At 1/31/2013 8:19 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


She TOTALLY woudn't respect me for giving it away! But moreso, I bet she'd dislike having someone else's marks inside it. that doesn't bother me nearly as much as it does her, as her wonderful staory about her Wallace Stevens collected shows, but I understand!

At 2/08/2013 9:53 AM, Blogger sanved said...

Great Article !

Sanved's Tech Blog


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