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The Muriel Rukeyeser 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.
Aaron Pinnix, Learning to Breathe Underwater–The Tidalectics of Rukeyser’s “Anemone”
Over the course of her career Rukeyser was consistently interested in the ocean as a space of possibilities. For instance, her first book of poems, Theory of Flight (1935), begins with overlapping references to drowned Sappho, Sacco (an Italian-American anarchist executed in 1927), and “Rebellion pioneered among our lives, / viewing from far-off many-branching deltas, / innumerable seas.” 1 While Rukeyser’s fascination with water, its changes of phase and discursive uses, have drawn critical attention, 2 her specific interest in the ocean has remained largely underexplored. Catherine Gander attends to Rukeyser’s representations of the ocean in the poem “Ryder,” 3 but it is poet Alicia Ostriker’s Keynote Speech at the 2013 Rukeyser Centenary Symposium that goes the furthest in considering the ocean in Rukeyser’s work. Describing her experience of reading Rukeyser’s poems, Ostriker declares, “I begin to read and am immediately in danger of drowning. The writing is not merely fluid, it is oceanic. It cannot be paraphrased. . . . But it is beneath the surface that the meanings wait for me.” This experience of learning to breathe underwater is palpable elsewhere in Rukeyser’s poetry. Some of Rukeyser’s most interesting work occurs underwater, as in her poem “Anemone,” included in her 1968 The Speed of Darkness, a book that addresses such varied topics as orgies, lesbianism, motherhood, and suicide, and is widely considered “the first great Second Wave feminist work of poetry.” 4
An overtly erotic poem, “Anemone” draws connections between the opening and closing of eyes, mouth, sex, and life.
Originally published in The Speed of Darkness (1968)
You are looking into me with your waking look.
My eyes are closing, my eyes are opening
My mouth is closing, my mouth is opening.
You are waiting with your red promises.
My sex is closing, my sex is opening.
You are singing and offering : the way in.
My life is closing, my life is opening.
You are here.
Textual Practice‘s Special Issue on The Life of Poetry (Vol. 32, no. 7), edited by Catherine Gander, is now available at Textual Practice. Gander's introduction to the issue 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.
As our “Living Rukeyser Archive” is entering its seventh year, we decided to make some changes to our front page. We hope you like them and 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), and poet and independent scholar Laura Passin. We have published critical essays by Dara Barnat, Charlotte Mandel, Chelsea Lonsdale, Alice Thomsen, Laura Passin, Elisabeth Daumer, Kelly Nadler, Kyle Evans, Trevor Snyder, Adam Mitts, Alicia Ostriker, Walter Hogan, Helen Engelhardt, Vivian Pollak, Tim Decelle, Alexandra Swanson, and, most recently, Heather Macpherson. 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 InfoALA Session: Rukeyser and Other Writers
JNT Ordering Information
Re/Considering Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry
Rukeyser symposium 2013
Who was Rukeyser?
Recent PostsThe Power of Suicide: Muriel Rukeyser’s Poetic Responses to Sylvia Plath
Discovering Muriel Rukeyser as a Young Writer
Muriel Rukeyser and Other Writers
On the centenary of Muriel Rukeyser’s birth: the lives of a poet
‘Islands’: Dragging Our Heads Back