Thursday, April 21, 2011

NPM: Muriel Rukeyser

Since the ladies have been underrepresented during our National Poetry Month meetings (except for Miss Dickinson, of course), tonight we'll take a look at a few pieces by Muriel Rukeyser (1913 - 1980).

Rukeyser is another poet I know very, very little about. I've only seen her in one (1) college text (The Wadsworth Anthology of Poetry), very few of her complete poems are floating around on the Internet, and she doesn't seem to get much attention beyond fans of feminist/GBL verse. But Gail Simone (author of Secret Six, my favorite comic book as of late) is a fan, and that's all the recommendation anyone should need.

Effort at Speech Between Two People
by Muriel Rukeyser

:    Speak to me. Take my hand. What are you now?
     I will tell you all. I will conceal nothing.
     When I was three, a little child read a story about a rabbit
     who died, in the story, and I crawled under a chair :
     a pink rabbit : it was my birthday and a candle
     burnt a sore spot on my finger, and I was told to be happy.

:     Oh, grow to know me. I am not happy. I will be open:
     Now I am thinking of white sails against a sky like music,
     like glad horns blowing, and birds tilting, and an arm about me.
     There was one I loved, who wanted to live, sailing.

:    Speak to me. Take my hand. What are you now?
     When I was nine, I was fruitily sentimental,
     fluid : and my widowed aunt played Chopin,
     and I bent my head on the painted woodwork, and wept.
     I want now to be close to you. I would
     link the minutes of my days close, somehow, to your days.

:    I am not happy. I will be open.
     I have liked lamps in evening corners, and quiet poems.
     There has been fear in my life. Sometimes I speculate
     On what a tragedy his life was, really.

:    Take my hand. Fist my mind in your hand. What are you now?
     When I was fourteen, I had dreams of suicide,
     and I stood at a steep window, at sunset, hoping towards death :
     if the light had not melted clouds and plains to beauty,
     if light had not transformed that day, I would have leapt.
     I am unhappy. I am lonely. Speak to me.

:    I will be open. I think he never loved me:
     he loved the bright beaches, the little lips of foam
     that ride small waves, he loved the veer of gulls:
     he said with a gay mouth: I love you. Grow to know me.

:    What are you now? If we could touch one another,
     if these our separate entities could come to grips,
     clenched like a Chinese puzzle...yesterday
     I stood in a crowded street that was live with people,
     and no one spoke a word, and the morning shone.
     Everyone silent, moving....Take my hand.
               Speak to me.

By Muriel Rukeyser

I lived in the first century of world wars.
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 could call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less made for similar reasons,
Slowly I would get 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 signlas 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.

Excerpt from
Käthe Kollwitz
(by Muriel Rukeyser)

(Regrettably, I don't have access to the full version of this one. I only know about it because Scandal quotes part of it in Six Degrees of Devastation. There's nothing online except for excerpts, and it's a little late for me to get in the car and search the bookstores for a collection. Käthe Kollwitz was an artist of the early 20th century with whom Rukeyser felt an affinity. The image at the top is her "Self Portrait.")


Women as gates, saying:
"The process is after all, like music:
like the development of a piece of music.
The fugues come back and
again and again
A theme may seem to have been put aside,
but it keeps returning—
the same thing modulated,
somewhat changed in form.
Usually richer.
And it is very good that this is so."

A woman pouring her opposites,
"After all there are happy things in life too.
Why do you show only the dark side?"
"I could not answer this. But I know—
in the beginning my impulse to know
the working life
had little to do with
pity or sympathy.
I simply felt
that the life of the workers was beautiful."

She said, "I am groping in the dark."

She said, "When the door opens, of sensuality,
then you will understand it too. The struggle begins.
Never again to be free of it,
often you will feel it to be your enemy.
you will almost suffocate,
such joy it brings."

Saying of her husband: "My wish
is to die after Karl.
I know no person who can love as he can,
with his whole soul.
Often this love has oppressed me;
I wanted to be free.
But often too it has made me
so terribly happy."

She said : "We rowed over to Carrara at dawn,
climbed up to the marble quarries
and rowed back at night. The drops of water
fell like glittering stars
from our oars."

She said: "As a matter of fact,
I believe
that bisexuality
is almost a necessary factor
in artistic production; at any rate,
the tinge of masculinity within me
helped me
in my work."

She said : "The only technique I can still manage.
It's hardly a technique at all, lithography.
In it
only the essentials count."

A tight-lipped man in a restaurant last night saying to me:
"Kollwitz? She's too black-and-white."


Held among wars, watching
all of them
all these people

Looking at
all of them
death, the children
patients in waiting-rooms
the street
the corpse with the baby
floating, on the dark river

A woman seeing
the violent, inexorable
movement of nakedness
and the confession of No
the confession of great weakness, war,
all streaming to one son killed, Peter;
even the son left living; repeated,
the father, the mother; the grandson
another Peter killed in another war; firestorm;
dark, light, as two hands,
this pole and that pole as the gates.

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open ....

That should do it for tonight. Don't forget to post a Western Haiku on the comments section of this post for a chance to win an exciting prize!

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