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Mary Ruefle

  • In life, the number of beginnings is exactly equal to the number of endings ... In poetry, the number of beginnings so far exceeds the number of endings that we cannot even conceive of it.

  • I am convinced that the first lyric poem was written at night, and that the moon was witness to the event and that the event was witness to the moon. For me, the moon has always been the very embodiment of lyric poetry.

  • Yes, the mistrust of poetry has a long history, for a variety of reasons, but they all come down to sentiment and invention over fact and truth. Figurative language is suspicious.

  • Poetry is sentimental to begin with. To write a sentimental poem is an act of redundancy.

  • Polar fleece is a plush, spongy, totally artificial material that weighs nothing and conveys no quality of warmth or coolness; in fact, you can wear it in the most bitter weather or in the hottest heat. Polar fleece looks neither flimsy and light nor hearty and warm. It has no historical, cultural, or physical association with a place, a season, a society, or any living thing. It is the first existential fabric — eminentaly useful, meaningless, dissociated and weird.

  • Art has always been aware of itself as art.

  • The words secret and sacred are siblings.

  • Words have a love for each other, a desire that culminates in poetry.

  • It is the first experience you ever had of reading a decent poem: 'Oh, somebody else is lonely, too!'

  • ... the wasting of time is the most personal, most private, most intimate form of conversation with oneself, as well as with another.

  • [On filling out a grant application:] I seek an extended period of time, free from all distractions, so that I might be free to be distracted.

  • Irreverence is a way of playing hooky and remaining present at the same time.

  • A poem is a finished work of the mind, it is not the work of a finished mind.

  • I remember being so young I thought all artists were famous.

  • ... in the beginning William Shakespeare was a baby, and knew absolutely nothing. He couldn't even speak.

  • Every creative act is an act of hypocrisy and violence. You may have to think about it for a while, but I am sure you can discover your own.

  • A poem is a neutrino — mainly nothing — it has no mass and can pass through the earth undetected.

  • Now I will give you a piece of advice. I will tell you something that I absolutely believe you should do, and if you do not do it you will never be a witer. It is a certain truth. When your pencil is dull, sharpen it. And when your pencil is sharp, use it until it is dull again.

Mary Ruefle, U.S. poet, essayist, educator

(1952)