Review: Trances of the Blast by Mary Ruefle

By Emily May Anderson


Trances of the Blast’s title and its epigraph from the Book of Revelation conjure apocalypse, the blast from which we can hardly expect to recover. The book seldom deals with literal blasts, however, instead focusing on small everyday explosions of experience. The opening poem, titled “Saga,” begins with a statement of human connection:

Everything that ever happened to me
is just hanging—crushed
and sparkling—in the air,
waiting to happen to you.
Everything that ever happened to me
happened to somebody else first.

There is a sense of connection in the lines, but also a sense of smallness, of the inconsequence of any individual. Later on, the poem says “there is a rift through everything.” The rifts, the tears, the gaps, feature prominently in the book.

Sometimes, the rift is between the living and the dead, as in “Jaroslav,” in which the speaker addresses, “I, I mean you, I mean the shadow / of your shadow.” Or in “Happy,” which juxtaposes its title with the opening line, “After my mother died.”

Other times, it is a rift between individuals, as in “Little Eternities,” and its portrayal of a disconnected couple, or in “Jumping Ahead,” where the speaker addresses an unnamed other, “I wish I loved you, / but you can’t have everything.”

Trances of the Blast weighs in at 110 pages, and the middle of the book feels overloaded with frivolous observations about things like countertops and bank statements and spiders in the bathroom, but an overarching light shines through. It is the poet’s imperative, articulated in the title poem: “Explain yourself or vanish.” 

“Fireworks” begins, “The world was designed and built / to overwhelm and astonish. Which makes it hard to like.” Hard to like indeed. Yet Ruefle’s speaker loves her life. In “Provenance,” she asserts, “I hated childhood / I hate adulthood / And I love being alive.” The paradox of that statement, the embrace of life in spite of its messiness, its disasters, its rifts, gives energy and purpose to a book which might otherwise feel disillusioned and fractured.

Trances of the Blast
By Mary Ruefle
Wave Books (October 2013)
ISBN 978-1-933517-73-5