Friday, April 13, 2018

Poetry saving America Day 13 #NationalPoetryMonth

Mary Ruefle is a poet with whom we were unfamiliar until we came across her poem in Tony Hoagland's Twenty Poems that Could Save America. One of the nice things about National Poetry Month is the opportunity it presents to encounter the work of poets outside our normal reading circles. We look forward to reading more of Ruefle's work, based on the poem below, even though we find ourselves in nonalignment with its last three lines. For several years now, we've been proceeding on the premise that, if we keep our stack of unread books high enough, we won't die.

which book of poetry will you read next?
which book of poetry will you read next?
Photo by J. Harrington


I’m sorry to say it, but fucking
is nothing. To the gods, we look
like dogs. Still, they watch.
Did you lose your wallet?
Did you rip up the photo?
Did you pick up the baby
and kiss its forehead?
Did you drive into a deer?
Did you hack at the grass
as if it could kill you?
Did you ask your mother for milk?
Did you light the candles?
Did you count the buttons on your shirt?
Were you off by one? Did you start again?
Did you learn how to cut a pineapple,
open a coconut?
Did you carry a body once it had died?
For how long and how far?
Did you do the merengue?
Did you wave at the train?
Did you finish the puzzle, or save it for morning?
Did you say something? Would you repeat it?
Did you throw the bottle against the wall?
Did it break? Did you clean it up?
Did you tear down the web? What did you do
with the bug the spider was saving?
Did you dive without clothes into cold water?
Have you been born?
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.

Mary Ruefle

About Ruefle’s poems, the poet Tony Hoagland has said: “Her work combines the spiritual desperation of Dickinson with the rhetorical virtuosity of Wallace Stevens. The result (for those with ears to hear) is a poetry at once ornate and intense; linguistically marvelous, yes, but also as visceral as anything you are likely to encounter.”
We find no preexisting explanation for why Hoagland has included this poem in his list. We do have our own premise. Are you familiar with Zen? Do you know about experiencing enlightenment? Does the series of questions remind you of a series of koans, or maybe one long koan? Would America be saved if we were all enlightened? What could that mean? Perhaps -- Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.

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