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    Rereading Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry: a Textual Practice special issue

    Gander, Catherine (2018) Rereading Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry: a Textual Practice special issue. Textual Practice, 32 (7). pp. 1097-1102. ISSN 0950-236X

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    Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry is a difficult text to define. Written first as a series of lectures between 1940 and 1948, and published in 1949, the book is partly a defence of poetry as a vital means of truthful communication; partly a clear-eyed commentary on American culture and social realities in the midtwentieth century; partly a wide-ranging exposition of the relationality of all forms of human knowledge; partly a memoir of the most open and useful kind; partly a careful critique of the forms, images, meanings, effects, and implications of poetry – of the pacts poetry makes with its readers (and vice versa) – in aesthetic, personal, and ethical terms. I write ‘partly’ with the acknowledgement that the word does not suffice. The Life of Poetry is an extraordinary book not least because it is wholly all of these things, while encompassing and embodying many more – stretching, as it does, across topics that include politics, music, visual art, physics, philosophy, history, advertising, film, literature, religion, childhood, narratives of the marginalised and disenfranchised. As Rukeyser was fond of saying, quoting the physicist Willard Gibbs (whose biography she wrote), ‘the whole is simpler than the sum of its parts’. Perhaps above all, The Life of Poetry is an education. Framed as a response to a fellow refugee, who was sharing Rukeyser’s boat as it sailed away from the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, The Life of Poetry answers the man’s question as to the importance of poetry to such historical moments. As the essays in this special issue demonstrate, Rukeyser’s response affords a variety of perspectives on a myriad of connected issues pertaining to being in the world, with others. As such, it is a rousing call to put poetry to use, an activation of our shared ‘capacity to make change in existing conditions’

    Item Type: Article
    Keywords: Muriel Rukeyser; The Life of Poetry; American culture;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Arts & Humanities > School of English, Media & Theatre Studies > English
    Item ID: 11441
    Identification Number:
    Depositing User: Catherine Gander
    Date Deposited: 23 Oct 2019 15:50
    Journal or Publication Title: Textual Practice
    Publisher: Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
    Refereed: Yes
    Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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