Louise Kertesz, Review of Unfinished Spirit: Muriel Rukeyser’s Twentieth Century

Rowena Kennedy-Epstein’s Unfinished Spirit, Muriel Rukeyser’s Twentieth Century, is itself a work of bold originality and personal, passionate scholarship. It’s fitting that Rukeyser’s work modeled those qualities when critics were dismissing them as inappropriate, even offensive in a woman writer. In her acknowledgments, K-E professes the deep connection she has forged with her subject: “Writing about Rukeyser has helped me think through our political, humanitarian, and environmental crises and to remain, as she models, a ‘vulgar optimist.’”

2024-01-13T16:13:41+00:00July 12, 2023|Essays, Scholarship|0 Comments

Trudi Witonsky, “Lecture by Mr. Eliot”: Some Context

Published 7/20/2022 The Vassar Encyclopedia's entry on Muriel Rukeyser contains part of a poem, originally published anonymously in the November 1933 issue of Con Spirito.  Highly critical of T.S. Eliot, "Lecture by Mr. Eliot" was identified as Rukeyser's by Mary McCarthy, musing over the publication in her memoir, How I Grew: "The Scottsboro Boys. Yes, that sounds like Muriel and the reference would be to a reading by Eliot in Avery [Hall] during our senior year, when he gave us one of the early Possum poems" (260).  This remembrance might seem like slim evidence, without available confirmation from any of [...]

2023-09-04T17:13:49+00:00July 11, 2022|Essays, Scholarship|0 Comments

Elisabeth Däumer, Context for “Waterlily Fire”

By Elisabeth Däumer, Eastern Michigan University Published 2012/05/10 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 paintings, one of them an 18-foot long panel attached to the wall in the second-floor gallery. "As the blaze spread, the wall caught on fire, and the painting was almost completely consumed" (Life Magazine 1958, p. 56). Monet's 18-foot long Waterlily Painting destroyed at the Museum of Modern Art on April 15, 1958 Beloved by New Yorkers, the paintings [...]

2023-09-04T17:14:56+00:00May 10, 2022|Essays, Scholarship|0 Comments

Joely Byron Fitch, The Marks of Her Knowing: On Muriel Rukeyser’s “Käthe Kollwitz”

There’s a line in Muriel Rukeyser’s poem “Käthe Kollwitz” next to which I write: this, the center of everything. That line, from the five-part poem’s second section, reads: “A woman pouring her opposites.” The poem is better-known for a question that Rukeyser later asks, then immediately answers: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open” (Muriel Rukeyser Reader 214, part 3, lines 25-26). These might well be Rukeyser’s most-quoted lines; they appear in some form as countless epigraphs, as the title of at least two anthologies, and in the pages [...]

2021-06-22T14:24:30+00:00June 1, 2021|Essays, Scholarship|0 Comments

Trudi Witonsky, Introducing Louise Kertesz, Friday February 19, 2021

I’m thrilled to introduce Louise Kertesz to you. I first came to read Muriel Rukeyser through Adrienne Rich’s poetry, and you get used to reading one sensibility, even as it evolves and breaks and innovates. But when you start reading someone new, someone as complicated as Rukeyser, it’s bewildering at first, and you need a guide. So, as many of you have done, I turned to Louise’s 1980 monograph, The Poetic Vision of Muriel Rukeyser, where as I read, I could see  the patterns of the themes and images and processes come into coherent shape. Louise had had to rely [...]

2023-09-04T17:26:01+00:00May 24, 2021|Essays, Scholarship|0 Comments

Louise Kertesz, “My Untamable Need”: Reading Rukeyser’s Elegies in Light of Some of Her Later Poems

I wonder how many have come upon Rukeyser’s work – as I did —surprised that we’d not heard very much about her. In the early 1970s, I was a new PhD in English, reasonably acquainted with the work of despairing, self-destructive, suicidal poets (most of them men), whom critics and English courses focused on: Robert Lowell, Dylan Thomas, John Berryman, Randall Jarrell, Hart Crane, Theodore Roethke. The writing in this canon was undeniably brilliant. But after Berryman’s suicide in 1972 by jumping off a bridge, Lowell wrote a dispirited response: “Yet really we had the same life,/the generic one/our generation [...]

2021-06-04T15:38:54+00:00May 24, 2021|Essays, Scholarship|0 Comments

Chloe Ross, The Natural and the Imposed: The Presence of Barriers in Muriel Rukeyser’s “Waterlily Fire”

Fire is as much a tool and a representation of rebirth as it is a force of destruction. Water can represent the same, but also a freedom and a fear of the unknown. After all, who really knows what lurks under dark waters? Nothing in Muriel Rukeyser’s poem sequence “Waterlily Fire,” composed over the span of four years beginning in 1958 and published in 1962, exists in singularity, and the complex relationship she creates between fire and water is testament to that. Rukeyser presents her audience with a piece that opposes male artificiality with female nature, addressing the issue of [...]

2020-10-11T16:36:43+00:00October 11, 2020|Essays, Scholarship|0 Comments

Modina Jackson, Activism and Shared Consciousness in Muriel Rukeyser’s “Breaking Open”

“Most demonstrators and marchers did not worry over fine points of strategy; they were simply ‘against the war’” (Bricks and Phelps 141). This sentiment of undirected defiance resonated with the radicalism that emerged in the 1960s protests of the Vietnam War. Even more pertinent, the same sentiments reverberate today. When I was first writing this essay, in the fall of 2019, there had been several protests in Hong Kong throughout the entire year. The citizens of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (HKSAR) were fighting for their democracy, which had been infringed upon by [...]

2020-10-11T16:33:20+00:00October 11, 2020|Essays, Scholarship|0 Comments
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