AMONG THE MUSK OX PEOPLE

Mary Ruefle, Author . Carnegie-Mellon Univ. $24.95 (88p) ISBN 978-0-88748-372-1 ISBN 978-0-88748-367-7

The fast-moving, jittery poems in this fifth volume from the well-respected Ruefle (The Adamant) try hard to portray the world as her speaker really feels it: "I want," she exclaims, "to have/ an ecstatic relationship with life." In fluently unpredictable free verse (mostly) and discursive poetic prose (on occasion), Ruefle's work can take in almost anything, the more unexpected the better: "a line of laundry strung out/ over the Acropolis," "wigs and temperatures and horoscopes," "the moon in utero," drum majorettes, breast milk, the Book of Job and more. Her talent for producing the unexpected can be a weakness: some poems sound almost arbitrary in their choice of line breaks, emphases and endings, favoring individual phrases over the poems they make up. "It is a scrappy place, this world," Ruefle writes in "Cocktail Party," "and people walk/ about, a series of prepositions displacing the nouns." At her best, Ruefle combines surrealism, comedy and domestic pathos: "You've been crying: your cheeks are a rasher of streaked bacon." While she comes off as more personal, and more various, than her sometime collaborator Dean Young, her abrupt and entertaining style should please his readers, and she can tell jokes as good as his ("Ducks never acquire any knowledge/ because they will never shut up"). If this book's verbal fireworks sometimes fail to flare fully, Ruefle's more serious side continues to give her work depth and necessity. (Mar.)

Forecast:With another book soon to be published in May by CavanKerry press, and Post Meridian (2000) still in circulation, Ruefle has been prolific of late. With some earlier books out of print, look for a selected next time around, and for attention to this book and its successor in literary reviews.

Reviewed on: 03/18/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 88 pages - 978-0-88748-367-7
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