Posted on May 15, 2012 by Elisabeth Däumer

It seems right to begin this blog on the new Rukeyser website by exploring the different ways of reading that Rukeyser’s poetry invites or compels us to engage in.

This semester, I am guiding an independent study on Rukeyser with Chelsea Lonsdale, a student who will join EMU’s graduate program in Written Communication in the fall (2012) and who is currently completing an undergraduate thesis on craft–the “craft” of composition and “craft” if I understand her correctly in general.
So part of what we’ll do together is to “read” individual poems by Rukeyser; in fact, since Chelsea expressed her dissatisfaction with the practice of “close reading,” as defined and practiced by the New Critics, we are trying to figure out what reading Rukeyser’s poems “closely” might imply–and how else to read her poems, with an emphasis on “closely.”

Does it mean, for instance, that we assume the poem as “fixed” object? and if not, if, for instance, we think, like Rukeyser herself did, of poetry as a process, an event, a meeting place, what does that mean for our attention to the formal elements of her poems–line breaks, line indentations, punctuation. Should we treat them as “fixed” as “fluid” as subject to change or intervention by the reader?

If, as Rukeyser affirmed in The Life of Poetry,”Punctuation is biological and it is the physical indication of the body-rhythms which the reader is to acknowledge,” then, it seems to me, we need to pay close attention, not only to how she uses, but, equally importantly, to how she conceives of “punctuation” in her poetry:

…punctuation in poetry needs several inventions. Not least of all, we need a measured rest. Space on the page, as E.E. Cummings uses it, can provide roughly for a relationship in emphasis through the eye’s discernment of pattern; but we need a system of pauses which will be related to the time-pattern of the poem. I suggest a method of signs equivalating the metric foot and long and short rests within that unit. For spoken poetry, for poems approaching song, and indeed for the reading of any of these–since we are never without the reflection of sound which exists when we imagine words–a code of pauses would be valuable.