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The Muriel Rukeyser Living Archive
As a “Living Archive,” our website is designed to engender lively interdisciplinary conversations about this important twentieth-century poet. We include a rotating number of selected poems by Muriel Rukeyser. Published with permission of Bill Rukeyser, the poet’s son, these offer a representative sample of her voluminous and variegated body of work. The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser, edited by Janet Kaufman and Anne Herzog and available from the University of Pittsburgh Press, remains the most comprehensive collection of Rukeyser’s poetry.
Please take a minute to acquaint yourself with the site. Also consider contributing responses–critical, pedagogical, or creative–to the website by contacting us here.
The Marks of her Knowing: On Muriel Rukeyser’s “Käthe Kollwitz.”
There’s a line in Muriel Rukeyser’s poem “Käthe Kollwitz” next to which I write: this, the center of everything. That line, from the five-part poem’s second section, reads: “A woman pouring her opposites.” The poem is better-known for a question that Rukeyser later asks, then immediately answers: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open” (Muriel Rukeyser Reader 214, part 3, lines 25-26). These might well be Rukeyser’s most-quoted lines; they appear in some form as countless epigraphs, as the title of at least two anthologies, and in the pages of works of various disciplines, not to mention the opening paragraphs of essays like this one. (In her essay “Learning to Breathe under Water,” Alicia Ostriker calls them “almost a mantra among women poets.”) It seems to me these lines are so repeatable because they successfully encapsulate a truth: that women have historically been prevented from telling the truth about their lives, and that acts of speaking that do tell truths about women’s lives “split open” the world in that they transform and potentially destabilize that tenuous construction we call “the world,” which has so often been a world authored by and for men. (“Most disturbing,” Ostriker also writes, “is the moment… when much of what we think we know about “women” and “poetry” is called into question.”1 ) It seems also that this “world split open” is a subtle and elusive thing, and that one of the questions these lines offer us is: what does (or would) it mean for the world to split open? Continue reading
Self-Portrait, Hand at Forehead, Courtesy of the RISD Museum, Providence, RI
Held between wars
among wars, the big hands of the world of death
listens to yours.
The faces of the sufferers
in the street, in dailiness,
their lives showing
through their bodies
a look as of music
the revolutionary look
that says I am in the world
to change the world
is to love to endure to suffer the music
to set its portrait
up as a sheet of the world
the most moving the most alive
Easter and bone
and Faust walking among flowers of the world
and the child alive within the living woman, music of man,
and death holding my lifetime between great hands
the hands of enduring life
that suffers the gifts and madness of full life, on earth, in our time,
and through my life, through my eyes, through my arms and hands
may give the face of this music in portrait waiting for
the unknown person
held in the two hands, you.
In case you missed our February 19-20 webinar on Rukeyser's Elegies, you can now access video recordings of keynotes and presentations at Revisiting Muriel Rukeyser's Elegies in Times Like These. Also have a look at Dennis Bernstein's interview with Bill Rukeyser, February 16, 2021.
Muriel Rukeyser: The Contemporary Reviews, 1935-1980 is now available. Vivian Pollak, Professor of English at Washington University, has put together this invaluable resource in collaboration with Washington University's Digital Commons and Bepress. Have a look: Washington University Open Scholarship.
Catherine Gander's introduction to the Special Issue of Textual Practice centered on Rukeyser's The Life of Poetry can be accessed, free of charge, here.
Muriel Rukeyser’s iconic The Book of the Dead has been published as a free-standing volume from West Virginia University Press. The book, so Bill Rukeyser tells us, gets “as close as possible to realizing the 80-year old vision of both MR and [photographer] Nancy Naumburg that Book of the Dead be published as a photo/poetry work.” The book is beautifully introduced by writer and multi-media producer Catherine Venable Moore. In order to facilitate publication of the poem, we have taken down its digital copy on our website, including, unfortunately, the marvelous annotated copy prepared by former webassistant Adam Mitts, who is now pursuing a PhD at SUNY-Buffalo. Fortunately, Adam also wrote an essay on the poem, “The Book of the Dead–Rukeyser’s Map of America,” available right here, on our website.
Our “Living Rukeyser Archive” is entering its ninth year, and we are planning to expand in significant ways. We hope you consider joining the growing number of contributors and bloggers, who have enriched this living archive over the years: Our bloggers have included Joe Sacksteder (now a PhD student at the University of Utah); Marian Evans, a writer and cultural activist living and working in New Zealand; Catherine Gander, lecturer at Maynooth University, Ireland, and author of Muriel Rukeyser and Documentary: the Poetics of Connection; Adam Mitts (now a PhD student at SUNY Buffalo); poet and independent scholar Laura Passin; and, most recently, Canadian researcher and sound archivist Katherine McLeod, who produces monthly audio content for SpokenWeb’s ShortCuts as part of The SpokenWeb Podcast feed. We have published many critical essays, by established and emerging scholars and readers of Rukeyser's work, among them, more recently, Vivian Pollak, Tim Decelle, Alexandra Swanson, Heather Macpherson, Aaron Pinnix, Trudi Witonsky, Eulàlia Busquets, Eric Keenaghan, Sam Buczkesmith, Modina Jackson, Vered Ornstein, Lily Pratt, Chloe Ross, Joely Byron Fitch, and Louise Kertesz, whose February 19, 2021 Keynote is now available in essay form. We’ ve been lucky to receive wonderful creative contributions: Stephanie Strickland permitted us to post her poem “Striving All My Life”; Kellie Nadler, Ned Randolph, Victoria Emanuela Pozyczka produced sound remixes of Rukeyser poems. We are always looking for more!
More InfoCopyright Permission
Who was Rukeyser?
JNT Special Issue on Muriel Rukeyser Ordering Information
Rukeyser symposium 2013
Recent PostsBill Rukeyser interviewed by Dennis Bernstein, February 16, 2021 KPFA Flashpoints
"Every elegy is the present": Listening to Muriel Rukeyser
A Visit with Louise Kertesz--Pioneer of Rukeyser Studies
Discovering Muriel Rukeyser as a Young Writer
On the centenary of Muriel Rukeyser’s birth: the lives of a poet
‘Islands’: Dragging Our Heads Back