We were incredibly blessed this past weekend to spend some quality time with one of the poets in our lives. Mary Ruefle visited us from Vermont and joined us for a reading of her acclaimed work at the Powell Library on Friday and for a discussion and hands-on workshop of erasure poetry at the Clark Library on Saturday.
Erasure poetry is created when an artist or writer takes the pages of a book (pretty much any book) and eliminates, strips away, covers up or erases most of the words on the page to unearth something entirely new. Whether the result becomes a recognizable narrative of its own or simply exists in stream of consciousness imagery doesn’t matter. (You can try your hand at erasure online at Mary’s publisher site.)
The process is equal parts unearthing and burying, Ruefle said, pointing out that if you were to dig a hole in the ground you would be doing both of those things simultaneously. Building a pile of dirt by digging a hole next to it….unearthing a new story, by burying pieces of the original.
Ruefle has erased more than 60 books. Some became gifts, some were bought by collectors, one was published as a book of its own. She’s even working on erasing the Bible.
“I hope to be working on one when I die,” she said.
She talked about how much this work has affected her life as an artist; how her physical space is replete with potential books to erase, alongside myriad books and supplies that will be used for “fodder,” to illustrate and re-articulate the emerging new text on the pages, the words of which she erases with carbon, graphite, Liquid Paper (which is better than White Out, she proclaimed authoritatively); the strange spiritual conversation she has come to have with one particular authoress named Laura Richards whose books, Mary discovered, she was quite coincidentally gravitating to erase.
“I love her so much, I want to erase every word she ever wrote,” Mary said, eliciting laughter from the rapt artists and poetry lovers in attendance.
It became clear quickly that there is a great deal of love in the process of erasure. Love of language. Love of exploration. Love of art.
The process is meditative and cathartic. She told us this and then she showed us this. Intrigued and compelled we gravitated to our own pages of text, our own fodder, heads bent and intent as she walked through an erasure exercise. Mary read resulting texts aloud, offered encouragement and exclaimed delights.
She often reminded us that there is always more to erase, and to fearlessly continue stripping away to the most minimal essence.
With soft, serene rays of sunlight caressing the glorious architecture of the Clark Library lecture room, Mary likened erasure art to the process of living and dying.
Life is an erasure. We say goodbye people we love, we lose things, our memories fade, we let go of innocence, and yet, somehow we can still manage to become something more of ourselves in the process.
And when we die, if even just one word, one memory, one kind face remains of what once was a lengthily written life, that is a gift.
We’re so grateful for the gift of Mary Ruefle. We’re grateful she came among us and planted seeds of poetic action as part of our ongoing Who is the Poet in Your Life initiative.
Here’s a gallery of some of the work we shared in our erasure workshop, and some scenes from the gorgeous Clark Library.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for a few special moments of erasure.