“Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry.”
Born this day in 1913: Muriel Rukeyser (1913–1980), poet known for her social and political themes
Muriel Rukeyser was a native of New York City. She was educated at the Fieldston School and then attended Vassar College for two years (1930 to 1932). She became deeply interested in social justice during the Scottsboro trials, and social issues informed her poetry and occupied much of her energy and passion during her life.
Rukeyser was only 21 when her first volume of poetry, Theory of Flight, was published by the Yale Series of Younger Poets. In addition to several volumes of poetry, she wrote about poetry, translated poetry, wrote several biographies, plays, and children’s books. Over the course of her career she was awarded the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award, the Levinson Prize, the Copernicus Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Poets such as Anne Sexton and Adrienne Rich cite her as an important influence on their own poetry. According to Rich, Rukeyser was
“one of the great integrators, seeing the fragmentary world of modernity not as irretrievably broken, but in need of societal and emotional repair.”Rukeyser was a feminist, active in the civil rights movement, and active in opposition to the war in Vietnam. She traveled often and was arrested more than once for her association with protest movements. Read her FBI files here!
by Muriel Rukeyser
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.
Muriel Rukeyser, “Poem” from The Speed of Darkness. Copyright © 1968 by Muriel Rukeyser. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/177125
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