Mary Ruefle has become an important voice in contemporary American poetry, praised often for her fresh, inventive style. She has published several collections of her works, including Tristimania (2004), Among the Musk-Ox People (2002), The Adamant (1989, winner of the 1988 Iowa Poetry Prize), and Post Meridian (2000), which became one of her most successful. The poems in this collection reflect her whimsical treatment of language, her startling and often obscure images, and her exploration of the interaction between imagination and human experience.
In one of the best poems in that collection, “Sentimental Education,” Ruefle focuses on a classroom of children who must face a series of injustices as they interact with each other and with their teacher. The title of the poem, an allusion to Gustave Flaubert’s novel of the same name, is an ironic statement about the nature of education. In her construction of lists of each child’s loves and of the prayers that they recite in the classroom, Ruefle reveals how the students are confronted with the harsh realities of human experience and of traditional, parochial education, and how they learn to face these realities through active, imaginative engagement with their world.