cover image Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures

Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures

Mary Ruefle. Wave (Consortium, dist.), $25 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-933517-57-5

Profound, unpredictable, charming, and outright funny, this collection of unconventional prose about poetry might secure an audience far larger than the one that already exists for Ruefle’s own poems. Known for her post-Surrealist lyric and for erasures, Ruefle (The Most of It) began to write prose under protest when her teaching program required lectures. Those protests survive in the lectures’ inventive forms: they stop short, ramble, tell jokes, bring in sad moments from the author’s own history of reading and rereading, and end up with seriously useful advice for writers, strange and memorable claims about poems and poetry. One lecture asks why poetry seems less like the sun than the moon; another chapter insists that “Poets are dead people talking about being alive.” A lecture on Emily Dickinson brings new light to that poet by juxtaposing her with Emily Brontë, and both women with Anne Frank. These informal talks have far more staying power and verve than most of their kind. Readers may come away dazzled, as well as amused, feeling (as Ruefle says about her bookish childhood) that “this was the secret labyrinth of reading, and there was a secret tunnel connecting it to my life.” (Aug.)