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The Life of Poetry

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  219 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
Observing that poetry is a natural part of our pastimes and rituals, Muriel Rukeyser opposes elitist attitudes and confronts Americans' fear of feeling. Multicultural and interdisciplinary, this collection of essays and speeches makes an irrefutable case for the centrality of poetry in American life.

Paperback, 256 pages
Published September 1st 1996 by Paris Press (first published 1968)
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Hugh Martin
Jun 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Wow. I'm going to use so much in here when I have to defend poetry and why it matters. "Why is it feared?" Rukeyser asks. "It demands full consciousness..."
Jan 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, non-fiction
I am fascinated by Rukeyser's personal story & her engagement with history. Although her thinking in these essays is sometimes fuzzy & her use of abstractions, such as truth, reality, imagination, consciousness & even language, is often contradictory (she says one thing & then, shortly thereafter, seems to say its opposite), she repeatedly won me over when her poet's voice sneaks into her prose. For example, when she characterizes Emily Dickenson's style as one of a "slang of str ...more
Mar 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I finished reading this book on the second anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001. In those two years, it felt to me that our country was in a constant state of war, with each other and with the world. Muriel Rukeyser wrote the first edition of this book following the end of World War II, in the wake of our country's controversial choice to use nuclear bombs to end the war with Japan. The poignancy of this parallel informed and haunted my reading of this passionately intelligent treat ...more
Jun 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
I am so glad I read this. This book was published in 1949, and in response to what she was saying, advocating, complaining about, at that time made me fervently wish I could have had conversations with her during the 1960's & 1970's as so much of what bothered her was dramatically evolving. I sat talking out loud to this book. I like her concept of, in my words, her concept of the whole. Nothing is separated, everything is integrated. She decided to refer to readers as witnesses instead of r ...more
Sherry Chandler
Nov 21, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People who are smarter than I
I was not a good reader of this book, maybe because it's out of a time that I know little about. A lot of the cultural references Rukeyser makes mean little to me, so I felt that I needed a key to unlock the code. Reading it was like wading through deep water and occasionally encountering the buoy of a quotable quote. Reading it also made me very sad because, in 1949, Rukeyser seemed to have great hopes for a world transformed by art and poetry. Fifty years on, engaged in what George W. Bush cal ...more
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
if one can relax, stepping back to view the greater image of the poet, one may begin to become a poet
Oct 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: school, 2008, about-poetry
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Jun 22, 2013 rated it liked it
I wanted to love this book. I really like Rukeyser's poetry, and she was a boundary-busting activist who did not separate that activism from her creative work. There were some great moments in these essays - "...remember what happened to you when you came to your poem, any poem whose truth overcame all inertia in you at that moment, so that your slow mortality took its proper place, and before it the light of a new awareness was not something new, but something you *recognized* "(35) - I just ha ...more
Paris Press
Nov 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: published, poetry

The Life of Poetry is an interdisciplinary book that explores American culture. This collection of essays addresses Americans' fear of feeling and how that fear contributes to the devaluation of the arts, especially poetry, in the United States. Through discussions of history, science, film, literature, mathematics, the visual arts, dance, theater, and politics, Rukeyser speaks to Americans who are intimidated or bored by poetry; she also speaks to those w
May 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
Rukeyser's arguments for the significance of poetry are full of detours and asides, which can make this a difficult read. Much of her views on poetry's possibilities are very closely tied to her interest in the sciences, which can be distracting (although her criticisms of the rigidity of method that emerges in science and the humanities resonates). The detours and asides, though, are often quite wonderful, as are her conclusions about the reader not just as audience, but witness, and the poem a ...more
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  • Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry
  • The Art of the Poetic Line
  • The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction
  • Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft
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  • The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination
  • The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach
  • Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry
  • The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing
  • Poetry and the Age
  • What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics
  • In the Palm of Your Hand: A Poet's Portable Workshop
  • Poetic Meter and Poetic Form
  • Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry
  • Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry
  • The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms
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Muriel Rukeyser was an American poet and political activist, best known for her poems about equality, feminism, social justice, and Judaism. Kenneth Rexroth said that she was the greatest poet of her "exact generation".

One of her most powerful pieces was a group of poems entitled The Book of the Dead (1938), documenting the details of the Hawk's Nest incident, an industrial disaster in which hundr
More about Muriel Rukeyser...
“Always our wars have been our confessions of weakness” 22 likes
“We are against war and the sources of war.
We are for poetry and the sources of poetry.”
More quotes…