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Reading “The Great Fortune of Material Existence” by Mary Ruefle



Poetry Lunch S1E4

Reading “The Good Fortune of Material Existence” by Mary Ruefle from Dunce, published by Wave Books.


I first discovered Mary Ruefle in the poetry section of Powells Books in Portland but it wasn’t a poetry book, exactly—it was her fabulous book of collected lectures, Madness, Rack, and Honey. The title slayed me at once, and the first line of the introduction (btw I hardly ever read introductions) got me hooked:

“I never set out to write this book.”

I never set out to do pretty much anything I’m doing, exactly, but I keep discovering more about what I’m doing as I do it. Mary Ruefle is one of the most delightful and fascinating people I’ve had the privilege to read and to meet. The last time I talked to her was outside the Burke Museum in Seattle where we had come to see her fellow Wave poet Cedar Sigo read. She offered me a cake popsicle and introduced me to someone by saying “This is Myrna. She insulted me when I first met her and I liked her straightaway!”

I was half mortified and half hilarified and scrambled to tell the story of how we met, to explain and make amends and then I realized wait, wow, that was a compliment. I had said what I thought which happened to be an emperors-new-clothes sort of moment and she was, in that moment, quite relieved to hear it said.

Anyway! The particulars of that story maybe I’ll tell another day. For now, go read Mary Ruefle! I’ll post some books and links and the poem in stories.

But one more thing. Delight is what gets me first with Mary’s poems, yes; but it’s the feeling of wild open possibility—the leaps of association that are not only permitted but reveled in—that stays with me through a day and keeps me coming back. The way she writes makes me feel free and seen and allowed to think the weird ways that I think, too.


Related print


faster love is all there is

but making anything you have explored time,
and exploring time you have created the world,
even if it is only a little cairn of broken bricks.

We notice you use the word lonely
in many of your poems, why is that?

I can say is I am happyhappyhappy to be here with the stars and
the logs, with my head thrown back and then pitched forward
in tears. And the litchi! it's like swallowing a pearl.

Mary Ruefle

From four different poems, three in Trances of the Blast and one in Selected Poems, published by Wave Poetry (see product page for full credit line). A Mary Ruefle sampler, if you will.

I met Mary at one of her readings in Seattle and gifted her a copy of Tess Gallagher's "Choices" broadside, which I had brought as a gift for someone who wasn't there. So I got up the guts to give it to Mary who immediately said, "want to do one with me?" I nodded starstruck. Then commenced six months of reading, and another year of letter writing. Mary Ruefle does not use email. So all proofs went hardcopy and were responded to with typewritten letters.

I asked Mary what she'd like me to print and she said simply, "I think it's best if you choose something from among my published works." Talk about intimidating! I bought the rest of her books and reread the ones I already had and flagged at least 12 poems and then wallowed in indecision.

Meanwhile I had recently learned the word "cento" due to a project I was working on with Poetry Northwest. A cento is a poem made up of parts of other poems. The idea rang happy in my excerpt-oriented heart and so I pulled out a handful lines from different poems and arranged them like puzzle pieces. Mary responded happy too. Then I asked her to write "happyhappyhappy" a few times in different pens and I chose one and scanned it in and had a plate made from it.

The cherry on top was that she agreed to sign the whole edition and the cherry on top of that cherry is that she sent me back a few of the test prints with erasures, creating whole new poems from the new poem I had made. It was a real astonishing one-up to my process I've never experienced before or since.


Links to purchase

Get the book here: Dunce and the print here: A Little Cairn.