Essays

Vivian Pollak–“The Minotaur” and the Trouble with Normal

In the fall of 2016, the same semester that Washington University hosted a presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I began teaching a fifteen-person seminar organized around the theme “American Women Poets and the Trouble with Normal.” There … Continue reading

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Tim DeCelle–Lost in a City of Madness: Finding the Minotaur

“Deep in his labyrinth, shaking and going mad,” Rukeyser’s Minotaur stands in a maze, a “crooked city” (Collected Poems) whose apparent order masks a subterranean sphere of madness.  We are brought into and through, again and again, the dead-ends and … Continue reading

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Vivian Pollak and Alexandra Swanson–Charles Naginski Timeline

May 29, 1909: “Betzabel” (later Charles) Naginski is born in Cairo, Egypt, where there is a substantial community of East European Jewish immigrants who benefit from the comparative liberality of the Sultan’s regime. His parents, Abraham and Nahema Naginsky, speak … Continue reading

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Helen Engelhardt: Muriel’s Gift–Rukeyser’s Poems on Jewish Themes

© Helen Engelhardt To be a Jew in the twentieth century Is to be offered a gift. So begins the most well-known and beloved of the poems written by Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), who was astonished when the Reform synagogue movement … Continue reading

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Walter Hogan–Rukeyser’s “The Outer Banks”

  Muriel Rukeyser’s 1968 collection, The Speed of Darkness, begins with four dozen short poems, and concludes with several longer poems, of which “The Outer Banks” is the first. (It is followed by “Akiba,” “Käthe Kollwitz,” and the title poem, … Continue reading

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Adam Mitts: The Book of the Dead–Rukeyser’s Map of America

Muriel Rukeyser begins The Book of the Dead by writing, “These are roads to take when you think of your country,” explicitly linking geography and history to the poem’s central concern, the painful silicosis and death of hundreds of workers … Continue reading

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Adam Mitts: The Ajanta Group–The Poem as Meeting Place

Memory, like a cave exposed to air, consumes its own images, as if the act of remembering graffitis the mind’s paintings in the name of restoring them. I can’t help but feel as if the pigments crack and peel from … Continue reading

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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 … Continue reading

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Elisabeth Däumer: “Ajanta”–An Introduction

Part One: Although Rukeyser never visited the Indian Caves of Ajanta, her poem evokes the atmosphere of the caves and glimpses of their paintings in stunning imagery. Her knowledge of the man-made caves was indebted to a portfolio of large-scale … Continue reading

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Laura Passin: The Power of Suicide and the Refusal of Mythology–Sylvia Plath and Muriel Rukeyser

This essay is, in itself, evidence of a slight derangement in my scholarly life: I am obsessed with two lines by Muriel Rukeyser. I will explore the connections suggested by those lines and the complex ways Rukeyser grapples with gender, … Continue reading

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