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.
In an era in which art is increasingly dictated by marketers, and publishers and filmmakers don't seem to make a move without first consulting focus groups, poetry might seem, at first, a bit superfluous. It's "difficult," for one thing, subject to many interpretations; it's also deeply personal, unsuited to creation by committee. So what possible use does the modern world have for poetry? Muriel Rukeyser answers this question in The Life of Poetry
, a book that just keeps coming back in time for each new generation. First published in 1949, it was reissued in 1974 and returns to print again in 1997, courtesy of Paris Press. Rukeyser's presents many definitions of poetry: it is an exchange of energy, a record of the emotional meaning of every moment, a concentration of universal joys and sorrows. It is a thing "in which we may live and which will save us."
Rukeyser, herself a poet, was a woman who understood that poetry alone was not enough to save the world. An activist on behalf of West Virginia coal miners and later censored South Korean writers, Rukeyser had an intimate understanding of the place principle and action occupy in saving the world. But the world needs a soul as well as a mind and a will, and for Rukeyser, poetry fills that role. The Life of Poetry is about poetry, but within that realm fall subjects as varied as musicals; war; and the works of Whitman, Dickinson, and Lorca, among others. Rukeyser died in 1980, but her fierce intelligence and great heart live on in this marvelous meditation on the universal applications of poetry.