Mary Ruefle wins Aiken-Taylor Award for Modern Poetry

Photo by Matt Hembree

By David Provost

Staff Writer


On March 2, professors, faculty, students, and community members experienced a live reading from Mary Ruefle first-hand. Even those who may have previously attended one of her renowned readings were not prepared for the literary ecstasy found within Convocation Hall that afternoon.

Although this is Ruefle’s first Aiken-Taylor award, she is no stranger to national literary accolades. Ruefle’s anthology, The Adamant, won an Iowa Poetry Prize and her newest book, My Private Property, is taking the contemporary poetry scene by storm.

Ruefle’s reading style is completely and entirely her own. The rhetorical rhythm she used was constantly gripping without being particularly alarming or performative. Her sarcastic and dismissive delivery created an atmosphere that made it difficult for the audience to discern between her poetry and her spontaneous thoughts.

Before going into more personal pieces, Ruefle said to those at Convocation, “I don’t have time to keep a journal, so I decided to make a fake one.” However, the poems read aloud from her fabricated journal sounded very real. The entire reading soon became a wild card of language. Some of her poems are very much family-friendly, while others are irrevocably vulgar in thematic content.

One of her standout poems, entitled, “Snow,” covered the idea of sexual impulses in a domestic household setting, and how closely related desires are with the expectations we place on our day-to-day lives. Another poem, “The Cashew,” broke traditional narrative form with twists and turns and by presenting stage directions so incredibly specific that they opened up the symbols and allegories to a much wider, universal meaning.

The overall impression one receives from this level of recited creativity is that of personal choice. The Convocation crowd never laughed perfectly in synch or interpreted the power of her words at the same time. It was as if Ruefle read aloud to each person one-by-one, holding audience members with familiar phrases but never failing to challenge the poetic experience through form, atmosphere, and haunting images.

Her most striking personal statement was just as original as the poems she chose to read: “I have spent so many years impersonating the poet Mary Ruefle, I suppose I have become her.” The actualization of Ruefle’s impersonation received the Aiken-Taylor award with grace, and only after sharing the limitless nature of inspired, recited art.