I’m writing a play that includes some of Muriel Rukeyser’s poems.
Muriel’s* second book of poems, U.S.1 (1938) excited William Carlos Williams, according to Jan Heller Levi.** When he reviewed it, he wrote that there were passages
…that are pretty dull but that is bound to be the character of all good things if they are serious enough. When a devoted and determined person sets off to do a thing, he wants to get there even if he has to crawl on his face. When he is able to, whenever he is able to, he gets up and runs.
I get it. I remember crawling along McFarlane Street, looking for words: prep with Madeline’s word list, for the Aphros 48 Hours film.
Overwhelmed as I am by the volume and qualities of Muriel’s poems, if I’m devoted and determined maybe I’ll use them effectively. Get up and run, some days. Soar with Tink now and then.
Jan Heller Levi also refers to Muriel as ‘our great epistemologist of feeling’:
In her life and work, she wanted to draw on two ways of knowing (she would say “reaching”) that have been deemed in our culture mutually exclusive: verifiable and unverifiable fact… As she wrote in The Traces of Thomas Hariot (1971), “the poem is not ’emotional thinking’ nor any other putting together of the split terms of our usage.” It is, she said, an expression of the life buried beneath these terms, which we can “bring…through in ourselves.” King David, she said, knew it and named it in the prayer for his son Solomon: “‘the thoughts of the imagination of the heart'”.
OK, back to Final Draft, holding onto all that, especially the thoughts of the imagination of the heart. Grateful that I have a writing buddy to report to at day’s end. And that I have a treat planned after work: seaweed collection (if the City Council doesn’t get there first: now there’s some motivation).
*I think of Muriel Rukeyser as ‘Muriel’, just a tiny bit younger than my beloved friend Nancy–now 100, and someone I talk with over a cup of tea, with respect but without the carapace of formality. (But as I choose to do this I remember how rigorous Jacquie Baxter was in dividing references to her former husband between ‘Jim’ and ‘Baxter’, and referred to herself too as both ‘Jacquie Baxter’ and ‘J C Sturm’.)
**”Too Much Life To Kill”: Some Thoughts on Muriel Rukeyser” (1999) How Shall We Tell Each Other of the Poet? The Life and Writing of Muriel Rukeyser eds Anne F Herzog and Janet E Kaufman 282-286