KR BlogReading

The Ax and the Frozen Sea

Mary Ruefle’s “Someone Reading a Book is a Sign of Order in the World” moves like a bee inside the honey-hive: it arches its back, it hides in the corner, it stomps about. It preens and plumes. Sometimes it shakes. Sometimes it opens every window in the house, even though it is raining. In short, it is a lot like Ruefle’s poems.

The essay is a frenetic take on the joy of reading. Or better said: the joys of reading, joy passed through a prism and so become more, unfocused and plural, a democratic joy, a peculiar joy with a many-ness inside it, a many-ness grown in the culture dish of time and space. Homer famously called Odysseus many-turned; Ruefle’s joy is like a whirligig.

Take, for instance, this recollection of Ruefle’s, that reading can be a life-shaking hazardousness:

Hazardous even to the initiated: recently I was reading the notebooks of the Greek poet George Seferis (1900-1971). I was also reading, for the first and last time in my life, my own private journals, which I began writing when I was sixteen and ceased to write when I was forty. As is my habit, I was copying selected passages from the Seferis into a notebook. Later that evening I began reading a journal I kept twenty years ago. In it, I was reading the notebooks of the poet George Seferis (1900-1971) and had copied into the journal by hand my favorite passage, which was identical with the passage I had copied earlier in the day, believing completely that I had never encountered it before: But to say what you want to say you must create another language and nourish it for years & years with what you have loved, with what you have lost, and with what you will never find again.

Hazardous for the coincidence and association that is more raw magic than craft. Magic can scare you back into your life, because you discover it???it’s as shocking as pensions falling out of the sky???it overwhelms your simple imagination. Craft has fingerprints. Magic barely casts a shadow, then is gone???

Or this passage on the hazards of reading???on the chance prophecies:

I had recently one of the most astonishing experiences of my reading life. On page 248 in The Rings of Saturn, W. C. Sebald is recounting his interviews with one Thomas Abrams, an English farmer who has been working on a model of the temple of Jerusalem???you know, gluing little bits of wood together???for twenty years, including the painstaking research required for historical accuracy. There are ducks on the farm and at one point Abrams says to Sebald, “I have always kept ducks, even as a child, and the colors of their plumage, in particular the dark green and snow white, seemed to me the only possible answer to the questions that are on my mind.” It is an odd thing to say, but Sebald’s book is a long walk of oddities. I did not remember this passage in particular until later the same day when I was reading the dictionary, where I came upon the meaning of the word speculum: 1) an instrument inserted into a body passage for inspection; 2) an ancient mirror; 3) a medieval compendium of all knowledge; 4) a drawing showing the relative position of all the planets; and 5) a patch of color on the secondary wings of most ducks and some other birds. Did Sebald know that a compendium of all knowledge and the ducks’ plumage were one and the same? Did Abrams? Or was I the only one for whom the duck passage made perfect, original sense? I sat in my chair, shocked. I am not a scholar, but for the imaginative reader there can be discoveries, connections between books, that explode the day and one’s heart and the long years that have led to the moment. I am a writer, and the next step is inevitable: I used what had been revealed to me in my own writing.

Reading warps time, works it. Bends it like a stem in the sun. Throws a pocketful of sequins across the barn of the imaginative eye. Sometimes the sequins constellate.

These connections, the unplanned occurrences, this sense of impending associations???Ruefle rightly calls their force of attraction love. It is not a love we could rightly mimic or recreate, though it is one we are donkeys for not pursuing.

Ron Carlson has said the writer is the person who sits in the chair. So is the reader, and similar things happen to both of them. Periodically one stumbles across the notion that the compendium for all knowledge and the color of a duck’s plumage are signified by the same word.

Amazingly, the word is part of a language we speak. Sometimes we speak it like an oracle, sometimes like an auctioneer, sometimes to a person that we love.

Read Ruefle’s essay???then remember why you love the books you love.

About the Program

The Kenyon Review Associates Program provides Kenyon students with valuable experience in literary editing, publishing, and programming. KR Associates work closely with Kenyon Review staff, gaining valuable experience in a number of editing, publishing, and programming areas including manuscript evaluation, publicity and marketing, copy editing, developing web site and social media content, outreach programming, event planning and promotion, and other creative and editorial projects

KR Associates attend regular seminars conducted by Kenyon Review editorial staff, visiting readers, and publishing industry professionals. These seminars cover a wide range of topics including editorial philosophy, evaluation of submissions, print and electronic production, marketing, and design.

KR Associates enjoy also enjoy exclusive access to visiting writers and speakers, free issues of The Kenyon Review, and valuable work experience and employment references.

This program is made possible through an initiative of the Kenyon Review, part of the mission of which is to contribute to the enrichment of the academic, cultural, and artistic life of the Kenyon College community.

Requirements and Expectations

  • Submission Evaluation: All Associates are required to read and evaluate eight Kenyon Review submissions per week. Associates who are not able to complete their weekly submission assignments for more than two weeks in a row may not be allowed to continue in the program.
  • Trainings and Seminars: In-person attendance is mandatory at all trainings and seminars. We plan on scheduling six to eight seminars per semester, and most will take place on Thursdays during common hour.
  • Literary Engagement: Associates are expected to participate in literary events on campus and throughout the local community.

Application Details

The application deadline for the 2023-24 program has passed. Applications for the 2024-25 program will open in the fall of 2024. Please check back then for more details.

Questions? Please contact Tory Weber for more information.