Spring Cleaning (of the Mind)

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Of many urges that come in the spring, a powerful one is the desire to get rid of old things. You see old blenders, rotary beaters and Schwinn bikes on the sidewalk, piles of bags at Salvation Army. I like the idea of throwing thrings out of a moving car. It’s an idea I’ve been fascinated with since hearing the story of a photographer tossing out books written by a famous writer she was about to shoot.  Impatient with the theoretical writing, the photographer decided to wing it, to trust her own fierce imagination.

For Mary Ruefle, a wildly imaginative poet, the season of shedding is aligned with the seasons of life. While speaking at Brown, a student asked her an innocent question about – what? Art making, other poets, Providence?   The question wasn’t important, only how Ruefle answered. Utterly uncontrived, seemingly unable to say anything if it isn’t frank, or relevant to her own depths, Ruefle leaned in to speak. The scattered light on her face made it all the more intimate. She’d wandered into the nearby art store, she said, and started looking at the beautiful books on artists. Rather than giving her inspiration, the books created such inner dread that she ran outside to the street. All she wanted to do was to look at the pink cherry blossoms up the hill.

For Ruefle, it wasn’t fear of making choices, or disgust at capitalsm’s clever hand at converting everything to product. Her mind is filled up, she said bluntly – she can’t put anything more in it. Now in her sixties, her mind has everything it needs. She talked about all the writers over the years who have formed her mental landscape and with whom she’s responded, through her own poetry. Now she is set on emptying the extraneous matter so she can feel freer.  She might as well have been throwing books out of a moving car – spring is about springing open passages so she can be open to herself.

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