Friends, colleagues, and students have asked me: Why Rukeyser? What’s so special about her? Why create a Muriel Rukeyser website? Why make her the focus of an interdisciplinary online “meeting place”?
I’ve been thinking how best to say this and have come up with four primary reasons:
1. Her poetry makes things happen–it has a peculiar type of energy which emerges when it’s read in groups.
2. We still don’t know how to read her work. We seem to figure out how to read some of her poems–for instance “Book of the Dead,” but the fruitful approaches to one poem don’t necessarily transfer to our understanding of other poems of hers. Although there is clearly continuity between her poems, there is also great diversity. Her work is very heterogeneous, her interests surprisingly broad and specific at once.
3. There is no tradition of critical commentary on Rukeyser’s work. There are spurts of commentary, but no continuous critical tradition. This accounts for our difficulties of reading her. A major goal of this website is to create a continuous tradition of commentary on her poetry and prose.
4. Her relational vision lends itself to web technology. I am convinced Rukeyser would have appreciated and used web technology to articulate her ecological sense of the inter-relatedness of all things, all cultural activities. Poetry was never “separate” for Rukeyser from other language and other cultural activities. Also, she thought of poetry as a form of knowing profoundly related to other forms of knowing like science and philosophy. She would have been alive to the democratic capacities of web technology–the way it creates access and counteracts the walls and hierarchies that define academe.
I am going to expand on each of these reasons in future posts.