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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.
Adam Mitts: The Vocabulary of Silence: Voice and Disability in “The Speed of Darkness”
In 1964, the poet Muriel Rukeyser suffered a stroke. Four years later, in 1968, she published a poem called “The Speed of Darkness.” Over the years, this poem has been interpreted in a number of ways. A common interpretation is that the poem is about a woman finding her voice as a poet. The poem also links to a theme explored by Rukeyser in The Life of Poetry, which is how one writes poetry in a world that no longer values poetry, that, in Rukeyser’s thinking, actually fears poetry because poetry discloses areas of our selves we would rather ignore. In this paper, I wonder what happens to our interpretations of the poem if we read it from the perspective of Rukeyser’s disability, if we see the stroke as something more than a biographical fact current with the time of the poem’s composition, and instead see the stroke as the position from which the poet is writing, linking the physical event with the larger breakdown in communication and the struggle to find a voice with which the poem is concerned.
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