Read Helen Engelhardt's essay on the Jewish dimensions of Rukeyser's work
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.
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 featured poem this Fall is Rukeyser’s “The Minotaur,” published in her 1944 collection Beast in View. We are extremely fortunate to have Vivian Pollak, scholar of American poetry and Professor of English at Washington University, and two of her students, Tim Decelle and Alexandra Swanson, share their thoughts and exhilarating discoveries about the historical and biographical context of the poem–in particular Rukeyser’s friendship with composer Charles Naginski. Have a look at their contributions to our Living Archive: “‘The Minotaur’ and the Trouble with Normal” by Pollak; a Charles Naginski Timeline by Pollak and Swanson; and “Lost in a City of Madness: Finding the Minotaur” by DeCelle.
Trapped, blinded, led; and in the end betrayed
Daily by new betrayals as he stays
Deep in his labyrinth, shaking and going mad,
Betrayed. Betrayed. Raving, the beaten head
Heavy with madness, he stands, half-dead and proud.
No one again will ever see his pride.
No one will find him by walking to him straight
But must be led circuitously about,
Calling to him and close and, losing the subtle thread,
Lose him again; while he waits, brutalized
By loneliness. Later, afraid
Of his own suffering. At last, savage and made
Ravenous, ready to prey upon the race
If it so much as learn the clews of blood
Into his pride his fear his glistening heart.