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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.
What is a “Waterlily Fire”?
Rukeyser composed this five-part poem over the span of four years (1958-1962) in response to a fire at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, which destroyed two of Monet’s Waterlily panels. Beloved by New Yorkers, the paintings had been acquired just three years prior, during the Monet revival that seized Europe and the United States, and that inaugurated a radical revaluation of the painter’s late work previously rejected as formless and passé. Now these same paintings, among them the waterlilies that the aging Monet had painted, again and again, over the last three decades of his life, were celebrated for the freedom of their brushstroke and a luminescent openness credited with shaping the new way of “seeing” introduced by Abstract Expressionists.1
Both the acquisition of the paintings and their destruction, which provoked an outpouring of sympathy from people across the nation, was captured in two issues of Life Magazine.2 As an artist, New Yorker, and friend of a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, Richard Griffith, Rukeyser was deeply attuned to the poignant story of the paintings and their loss.3
1 THE BURNING
Girl grown woman fire mother of fire
I go to the stone street turning to fire. Voices
Go screaming Fire to the green glass wall.
And there where my youth flies blazing into fire
The dance of sane and insane images, noon
Of seasons and days. Noontime of my one hour.
Saw down the bright noon street the crooked faces
Among the tall daylight in the city of change.
The scene has walls stone glass all my gone life
One wall a web through which the moment walks
And I am open, and the opened hour
The world as water-garden lying behind it.
In a city of stone, necessity of fountains,
Forced water fallen on glass, men with their axes.
An arm of flame reaches from water-green glass,
Behind the wall I know waterlilies
Drinking their light, transforming light and our
Skythrown under water, clouds under those flowers,
Walls standing on all things stand in a city noon
Who will not believe a waterlily fire.
Whatever can happen in a city of stone,
Whatever can come to a wall can come to this wall.
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.
Our “Living Rukeyser Archive” is entering its eighth year and 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); 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, Arica Frisbey, Vivian Pollak, Tim Decelle, Alexandra Swanson, Heather Macpherson, and, most recently, Aaron Pinnix and Trudi Witonsky. 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 PostsA Visit with Louise Kertesz--Pioneer of Rukeyser Studies
The 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