Welcome to the Muriel Rukeyser Website.

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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 are meant to provide 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.

Rukeyser News

Big News! West Virginia University Press will issue Muriel Rukeyser’s iconic The Book of the Dead as a free-standing volume.  The book, so Bill Rukeyser tells us, “will get 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 press plans to include three of the surviving Naumburg photos of Gauley Bridge along with a sketch of the area that MR drew in 36.  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.  In addition, Textual Practice will devote an upcoming Special Issue to The Life of Poetry, edited by Catherine Gander.

Our “Living Rukeyser Archive” is now in its fifth year. Over the past 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 in American Literature in the School of English at Queen’s University Belfast 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 EvansTrevor Snyder, Adam Mitts, and Alicia Ostriker.  We’ ve been lucky to receive wonderful creative contributions: Stephanie Strickland permitted us to post her poem “Striving All My Life”; Kellie Nadler, Ned RandolphVictoria Emanuela Pozyczka produced sound remixes of Rukeyser poems.  A recent addition is Helen Engelhardt’s “Muriel: In Memoriam” and her essay “Muriel’s Gift–Rukeyser’s Poems on Jewish Themes.”

New to our team last fall was is Arica Frisbey. She served as our web assistant and student blogger, with an aim to provide a millennial perspective on Rukeyser and her work. Have a look at her blog on Muriel Rukeyser’s Poetic Responses to Sylvia Plath.

Our featured poem this Spring is Rukeyser’s “The Iris-Eaters,” published in her 1976 collection The Gates. Dedicated to musician and composer John Cage, the poem is also a tribute to Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of Irises, specifically “Flower of Life II” (which we don’t have permission to display here).

Featured Poem

The Iris-Eaters

For John Cage 

It was like everything else, like everything–
nothing at all like what they say it is.
The petals of iris were slightly cinnamon,
a smooth beard in the mouth
transforming to strong drink,
light violet turning purple in the throat
and flashed and went deep red
burning and burning.
Well, no, more an extreme warmth,
but we thought of burning,
we thought of poisons,
we thought of the closing of the throat
forever, of dying, of the end of song.
We were doing it, you understand,
for the first time.
You were the only one of us who knew
and you saved us, John,
with music, with a