Among all the waste there are the intense stories

and tellers of stories

–Muriel Rukeyser, “Letter to the Front” (1944)

In a letter to Denise Levertov in 1965, Muriel Rukeyser writes, “I feel like being fat is a visible sign of my dark side.” Levertov responds by qualifying, “You actually give the impression of lioness grandeur, of hugeness, but not of ugly fatness.” When I first read this in my early twenties, I was struck by the wicked perniciousness of sexism–that two of the twentieth century’s most exciting and radical women poets would spend time talking about their bodies in such a way deeply depressed me. But of course, now I realize that’s not the only thing they were writing about. They were really writing: What does it mean to be a woman who takes up space–not just physical space but intellectual, verbal, literary, and political space? And what does taking up that space imply about desires, appetites, affiliations, bodily acts, and artistic impulses?

Ordering Unfinished Spirit: Muriel Rukeyser’s Twentieth Century from Cornell University Press: Unfinished Spirit by Rowena Kennedy-Epstein | eBook | Cornell University Press.