Cover image for How shall we tell each other of the poet? : the life and writing of Muriel Rukeyser
How shall we tell each other of the poet? : the life and writing of Muriel Rukeyser
Herzog, Anne F., 1959-
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xviii, 326 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Personal Subject:
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PS3535.U4 Z69 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Muriel Rukeyser, the late poet, journalist, translator, biographer, pilot, and social activist, has been described as an "American Genius" and our "20th-century Whitman." Anne Sexton and Erica Jong both referred to Muriel Rukeyser as "the Mother of Everyone." To read her collected work is to track American history through the century and to question with her the particular nature of the American imagination. Rukeyser began publishing in the 1930s, writing about Sacco and Vanzetti, the Scottsboro boys, and the Popular Front's stand against fascism, insisting always on the link between public subjects and the personal life. Until she died in 1980 at the age of 66, she persisted in bringing the events of the world into poetry, and poetry into the world. Her writing stretches the American poetic imagination, indeed the very definitions of American poetry, and guarantees her place in twentieth-century American literature. "How Shall We Teach Each Other of the Poet?" brings together the voices of those who have been challenged by the complexity and richness of Rukeyser's poems: former friends, colleagues, editors, and students reflecting on their personal knowledge of the poet; contemporary poets probing the significance of Rukeyser as one who influenced their own poetry, and scholars offering new interpretations of her work.

Author Notes

Anne F. Herzog is on the English Faculty of West Chester University
Janet E. Kaufman is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Utah

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Rukeyser (1913^-80) was shunned by the academy for the freedom of her thinking, her humanitarianism, and her unabashedly Whitmanesque poetic voice. As Denise Levertov, one of the nearly 40 poets and literary scholars whose considerations of and tributes to Rukeyser are collected here, writes, Rukeyser "consistently fused lyricism and overt social and political concern." Reginald Gibbons, another insightful admirer, observes that "Rukeyser aimed not at grace but at inquiry and witness and re-imagining." A writer, scholar, single parent, pilot, and activist, Rukeyser linked art to politics and science, and glided with ease from poetry to biography to children's books to translation to literary criticism, a fluidity that endeared her to poets but vexed critics and led to a vanishing of her works like that of an endangered species. But editors Herzog and Kaufman and contributors such as Gerald Stern, Adrienne Rich, and Richard Howard have set out to redress this neglect, and Rukeyser does, indeed, emerge from these pages, vibrant, defiant, gifted, and embracing. --Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

Even if Muriel Rukeyser never attained the status of Whitman or Dickinson, the poets Adrienne Rich compares her to in one of these essays, she was an American original. She was less a marquee poet than a force of nature, an imposing woman who gave herself to a variety of aesthetic positions, political causes, and passionate friendships and antagonisms. (Gerald Stern recalls being taunted by an audience member when he and Rukeyser read together once and starting to defend himself by saying, "I don't want to be mean," only to hear Rukeyser whisper, "Be mean, be mean.") Herzog and Kaufman, English professors at West Chester University and the University of Utah, respectively, gather writings by 37 Rukeyser fans; a number of these pieces are poems, the most luminous of which is Richard Howard's "A Sibyl of 1979," in which he describes being given a computer that had baffled Rukeyser, finding in it some draft phrases she had left there, and making them into his own tribute to her. For larger public and academic libraries.√ĄDavid Kirby, Florida State Univ., Tallahassee (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The first treatment of a neglected poet, this compilation of 37 pieces, including 12 poems to and about Rukeyser, is, in effect, a festschrift. Twenty-five are feminist testimonials ("She is our mother"); the editors make no provision for negative assessments, except in a few snippets. The book includes sections dealing with Rukeyser's poetics, her political activism, her feminism/motherhood, her teaching, and her "prophetic" quality. The strongest piece is a general one by Adrienne Rich. A memoir by Rukeyser's son, William (his first print appearance concerning his mother), enhances the book. Many of the essays (some of them speeches/papers from a Rukeyser conference) are documented. But one finds nothing about the poet's publishers or about her marvelous translation of Octavio Paz's Sun-Stone and almost nothing about her children's books. Lopsided, repetitive, and adulatory, the book may (as a first treatment) be somewhat useful in poetry collections. But readers should approach it warily while waiting for a more balanced treatment or a critical biography. Graduate and research collections. J. N. Igo Jr.; San Antonio College

Table of Contents

Alicia Suskin OstrikerJane CooperJane CooperMeg SchoerkeAnne HerzogJanet KaufmanAdrienne RichRichard HowardElaine EdelmanChris LlewellynMichael TrueJohn BradleyReginald GibbonsAaron KramerChristopher CokinosSharon OldsLyn LifshinLorrie GoldensohnAlmitra Marino DavidJan Johnson DrantellSusan AyresRuth PorrittSusan EisenbergJohn LowneyStephanie HartmanStephanie StricklandShoshana WechslerMichele WareJames BrockLeslie Ann MinotDaniel GabrielJudith HemschemeyerJan Heller LeviAnne MarxDenise LevertovGerald SternDaniel HalpernWilliam L. Rukeyser
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Forewordp. xiii
Introductionp. xv
Part I Poetics and Vision
"And Everything a Witness of the Buried Life"p. 3
The Calling (poem)p. 15
"Forever Broken and Made": Muriel Rukeyser's Theory of Formp. 17
"Anything Away from Anything": Muriel Rukeyser's Relational Poeticsp. 32
"But not the study": Writing as a Jewp. 45
Beginnersp. 62
A Sybil of 1979 (poem)p. 70
Part II Activism and Teaching
"Were we all brave, but at different times?": A Student Remembers Muriel Rukeyserp. 75
Summoning the Shade: Poetry as Vocation, Advocation, and Evocationp. 85
The Authentic Voice: On Rukeyser's "Poem"p. 91
The Uses of Poetry (poem)p. 100
Fullness, Not War: On Muriel Rukeyserp. 101
Elegy for Muriel Rukeyser (poem)p. 110
Rereading Muriel Rukeyser's "The Speed of Darkness" After Tracking Votes on Amendments to the Interior Appropriations Bill (poem)p. 114
Solitary (poem)p. 117
Muriel Rukeyser Accepting an Honorary Degree (poem)p. 118
Part III The Body, Feminist Critique, and the Poet as Mother
Our Mother Murielp. 121
For Muriel Rukeyser (poem)p. 135
Or What's a Mother For?: Muriel Rukeyser as Mother/Poetp. 137
Outlaw Against the Thinking Fathersp. 149
"Unforgetting Eyes": Rukeyser Portraying Kollwitz's Truthp. 163
"Changing Waters Carry Voices": "Nine Poems for the unborn child"p. 184
Part IV Poetry of Witness
Truths of Outrage, Truths of Possibility: Muriel Rukeyser's "The Book of the Dead"p. 195
All Systems Go: Muriel Rukeyser's "The Book of the Dead" and the Reinvention of Modernist Poeticsp. 209
Striving All My Life (poem)p. 224
A Ma(t)ter of Fact and Vision: The Objectivity Question and "The Book of the Dead"p. 226
"An Identity Seemed to Leap Out Before Me": Muriel Rukeyser's The Traces of Thomas Hariotp. 241
The Perils of a "Poster Girl": Rukeyser, Partisan Review, and Wake Islandp. 254
"Kodak As You Go": The Photographic Metaphor in the Work of Muriel Rukeyserp. 264
Metapoem (1) (poem)p. 277
Part V Remembering Muriel Rukeyser
To Muriel Rukeyser (poem)p. 281
"Too Much Life to Kill": Some Thoughts on Muriel Rukeyserp. 282
For Muriel Rukeyser (poem)p. 287
On Muriel Rukeyserp. 289
A Short Oration for Murielp. 294
Muriel (poem)p. 297
Inventing a Lifep. 299
Contributorsp. 303
Works Citedp. 309
Permissionsp. 318
Indexp. 321