cover image TRISTIMANIA


Mary Ruefle, . . Carnegie-Mellon Univ., $13.95 (91pp) ISBN 978-0-88748-407-0

The prolific Ruefle has become known for her for short, loaded poems whose reason-defying stories and near-dreamlike juxtapositions take readers close to the actual processing of experience; this eighth book keeps the whimsy but (as the title suggests) adds a strong undertone of bleak regret. "I was a failure as a gingerbread baker,/ I was a failure at drawing grasshopper," one early poem concedes; soon thereafter Ruefle (Among the Musk Ox People ) writes, "All those I love/ and all those who love me/ are unequally sad." The sources of that sadness remain concealed, while its tones vary from political dejection to near-suicidal romantic despair; encouraging readers to see the poet in her furnishings, Ruefle concludes an attractive nocturne of a poem: "The air is cool and will fill/ the white vase, who is ill." Litanies, lists and other forms based on anaphora give the volume some formal variety. To break the tension, the Vermont-based Ruefle also offers bright one-liners—"Do people become people for different reasons?"—and describes her Keatsian "wonderment, that the world was full/ of so many absent things." Ruefle's skewed anecdotes, and the tones that underlie them, should please admirers of Charles Simic or James Tate; followers of Ruefle's own previous work might sense more depth here, if a more constrained range. (Apr.)