"Although poet Muriel Rukeyser often provoked a varying critical
response to her work, there was never any doubt during her five-decade
literary career that a resounding passion was on display. Of her first
book, the award-winning collection Theory of Flight, W. R. Benet remarked in the Saturday Review of Literature
: "She is a radical politically, but she writes as a poet not a
propagandist. When you hold this book in your hand you hold a living
thing." Some forty-five years later, Gramercy Review
contributor Jascha Kessler labeled Rukeyser "the heroic, the bardic, the
romantic. . . . Poets who are bardic . . . take on mankind and the
whole cosmos as the field of their utterance, . . . [and] try to carry
whole nations forward through the urgency of their message. . . .
Wherever there are hot spots that journalists blow up on the front
page—strikes, massacres, revolutions, tortures, wars, prisoners and
marches—there is Rukeyser, in the very front line, a spokesperson, or
spokespoet perhaps, speaking up loudly for freedom in the world." Though
her outspoken nature obviously displeased certain critics, Rukeyser
remained a "spokespoet" all of her adult life.
In the critical
commentary on Rukeyser's more than a dozen poetry collections, such
phrases as "social activist" or "poet of social protest" are common.
Alberta Turner explains in the Dictionary of Literary Biography
that Rukeyser was a native of New York City and "by her own choice her
life was not bland or sheltered." In the 1930s Rukeyser attended Vassar
College and became literary editor of the leftist undergraduate journal Student Review .
As a reporter for this journal, Rukeyser covered the 1932 Scottsboro
trial in Alabama in which nine black youths were accused of raping two
white girls. According to Wolfgang Saxon in his New York Times
obituary of Rukeyser, the Scottsboro incident was the basis of
Rukeyser's poem "The Trial" and "may have been the genesis of her
commitment to the cause of the underdog and the unjustly condemned."
Following the Scottsboro trial, Rukeyser moved within very broad social
circles for the remainder of her years. Among other things, she
supported the Spanish Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War; she was
once jailed in Washington for her protest of the Vietnam War; and, as
president of the American Center for PEN, she travelled to South Korea
in the 1970s to rally against the death sentence of poet Kim Chi-Ha, the
incident which later became the framework of one of Rukeyser's last
poems, "The Gates." Since she aligned her creative capacities so closely
with the current events of her day, a number of reviewers believe the
history of the United States for several decades can be culled from
Though frequently incensed by worldly
injustices—as is apparent in both the subject matter and tone of her
writing—Rukeyser had an optimism that at times surprised her critics.
According to Roy B. Hoffman in his Village Voice review of The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser,
Rukeyser's distress with injustice was "mingled with a romantic's
belief in the perfectibility of the universe, and a young patriot's
belief in the perfectibility of her nation. . . . Perhaps it is this
belief of Rukeyser's—in a radiant epiphany behind the pain of
conflict—that both dates her and makes her refreshing to read. Her
idealism is unmarked by heavy irony, cynicism, or an intricacy of wit
that characterizes much contemporary poetry." Because of her optimism,
reviewers compared Rukeyser's style to that of nineteenth-century
American poet Walt Whitman. In an assessment of Waterlily Fire: Poems, 1935-1962, a Virginia Quarterly Review
critic explained that "like Whitman, Muriel Rukeyser has so much joy
that it is not to be contained in regular verse but comes out in lines
that are rugged and soaring." In much the same vein, New York Times Book Review's Richard Eberhart
judged Rukeyser's poems in general to be "primordial and torrential.
They pour out excitements of a large emotional force, taking in a great
deal of life and giving out profound realizations of the significance of
being. . . . She belongs to the Whitman school of large confrontations
In opposition to those who appreciated this
poet's ability to merge her outrage with hope, some reviewers considered
Rukeyser's optimism a weakness or a mere posturing. For instance,
Thomas Stumpf in the Carolina Quarterly found that Rukeyser's later collection Breaking Open
contains an "indefatigable optimism, hand-clasping brotherhood, and
love for all ethnic groups . . . [which] feed[s] a poetry that is
without muscle. . . . It is poetry that is fatally in love with
exhortations and public promises, with first person posturings." What
Stumpf ultimately detected in this particular collection was "the stuff
of bathos." In turn, Louise Bogan criticized Rukeyser for creating a world in her poetry that, in reality, "could not last overnight." In her book Selected Criticism: Prose, Poetry, Bogan described the world in Rukeyser's A Turning Wind
as "deficient in a sense of human life. . . . Her world is at once too
nightmare and too noble. . . . She does not realize that such a world
could not last overnight, that the sense of injustice is only relevant
when applied to living human beings. . . . [There] is something
hideously oversimplified in crude oppositions and blind idealism." Apart
from complaints such as these, many reviewers fondly supported
Rukeyser's optimism, an optimism grounded in what Kenneth Rexroth had labeled in a Los Angeles Times essay "the Community of Love."
In accordance with her impassioned nature, many of Rukeyser's earlier
poems contain an intrepidness and exhortative voice that will surely be
remembered. "Her intense tone, angry but also tender, jubilant, even
exalted, which was to be dominant throughout her career, [was] already
apparent in her first book," stated Turner; in it "she makes little use
of silence." Some critics were inspired by this vigor. Poetry contributor John Malcolm Brinnin explained that with the publication of Theory of Flight,
winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize, "American poetry found its
first full-blown expression of the rebellious temper that prevailed on
American campuses and among the younger intellectuals. Its success was
immediate. . . . Rukeyser was praised for the ruggedness of her
technique, her experimentalism, and for the powerful utterance which,
from a woman, seemed unique." Other critics could do without her
brashness. "This passionate, innocent young woman . . . talks so noisily
and so hurriedly that it never occurs to her that other people have
seen these things before, and have learned to speak more calmly," wrote Michael Roberts in his Spectator review of Theory of Flight. When Turner remarked in her Dictionary of Literary Biography essay that Rukeyser would probably not
be remembered as one of this century's greatest American poets, she
based this statement, at least in part, on her belief that Rukeyser
"wrote too much that was intense but fuzzy, trusting intensity to create
a magic rather than selecting and juxtaposing fresh powerful words or
images. But at times she was able to find the right image." Other
critics of Rukeyser's early collections felt stimulated by her energy
but, like Turner, professed that Rukeyser's methods needed perfecting.
As one Kirkus Reviews contributor put it, "[Rukeyser] has achieved considerable reputation among those to whom lucidity is not a necessary factor."
Although Rukeyser's early poetic voice tended toward that of a
sloganist, most critics sense that with time Rukeyser was able to
develop greater sophistication and control in her poetry. Whereas Anne Stevenson commented in her New York Times Book Review critique of The Collected Poems
that Rukeyser "seems to have been born poetically full-grown," others
considered various developments in Rukeyser's craft important enough to
analyze in their reviews. Brinnin, for instance, explains that "one of
the most interesting phases of the transformation of the social poet in
years of stress is the change in his use of language. In the case of
Muriel Rukeyser, it moves from that of simple declarative exhortation,
in the common phrases of the city man, to that of a gnarled,
intellectual, almost private observation. In her earlier usage, images
are apt to be simple and few; the whole approach is apt to be through
the medium of urban speech. In the latter work, images become those of
the psychologist, or of the surrealist, charged with meaning and
prevalent everywhere." Albeit, her conviction was still strong, Brinnin
added. Along the same lines, Turner found the later Rukeyser more
relaxed, less rhetorical, "and though the poems still end firmly with
clearly stated, strong opinions, they are less likely to pummel their
Another change involved the movement toward shorter
poems in contrast to the cluster poems, or collage poems, that were
somewhat of a trademark for Rukeyser, poems centered on a single theme
but developed in "separate, autonomous bits, [and] varied in line length
and stanza form[,] . . . the parts of each book roll[ing] toward the
reader in a series of waves, each of which crashes firmly," explained
Turner. This movement toward more concrete images and shorter poems
coincided rather closely with Rukeyser's increased devotion to the
personal as well as to the political in her poetry.
Rukeyser would continue to write poems that attempted to "carry whole
nations forward through the urgency of their message," political poetry
was not the be-all and end-all for Rukeyser, who explored a myriad of
topics during her literary career. Many of her poems, particularly after
her first few collections, were very personal, speaking on her role as a
mother and daughter, speaking on sexuality, on creativity, on the
poetic process, speaking also on illness and death. One of her poems
from The Gates, "Resurrection of the Right Side," details the
human body's slow recovery after a debilitating stroke: "I begin to
climb the mountain on my mouth, / word by stammer, walk stammered, the
lurching deck of earth. / Left-right with none of my own rhythms." In
her book Beast in View, the poem "Ajanta" is "purportedly" a
poem about painted caves in India, "but when she wrote it," noted
Rexroth, "Muriel had never been to India. . . . 'Ajanta' is an
exploration . . . of her own interior—in every sense. It is the interior
of her mind as a human being, as a poet, and as a woman. It is the
interior of her self as her own flesh. It is her womb." Virginia R.
Terris goes to some length in her American Poetry Review
article to chronicle Rukeyser's movement from the social to the
personal, or from theory to actual experience. Regarding Rukeyser's
biography of business magnate Wendell Willkie entitled One Life
and comprised partly of poems, Terris felt Rukeyser was "able to focus
single-mindedly on what she [had] only tentatively explored in earlier
volumes. . . . Although Rukeyser [was] exploring many of the themes she
had earlier explored—family tensions, social and technological issues
and women exploited—she [moved] into experiences that [were] hers
In the same way that Rukeyser's poetry was one of
variety—for it could be labeled many things: romantic, political,
feminist, erotic, Whitmanesque—her oeuvre explored a variety of genres.
Although known particularly for her poetry, Rukeyser wrote biographical
material (which was sometimes in the form of poetry), children's books,
plays, and television scripts, and she also translated poetry from the
Swedish, French, German, Spanish, and Italian. In addition, she taught
and read her poetry at institutions nationwide.
Poetry aside, Rukeyser's biographical work received the most critical attention. As Jane Cooper noted in the Washington Post Book World,
Rukeyser "loved science and history and modern technology, enjoying
their puzzles and solvings much as she enjoyed the puzzles and solvings
of poetic form." Thus, the fact that Rukeyser wrote about individuals
other than the literary and artistic should not be too surprising. While
it is true that Rukeyser wrote memorable poems about the German
lithographer Kaethe Kollwitz, American composer Charles Ives, and
mythological figures like Orpheus, at the same time she profiled New
England eccentric Lord Timothy Dexter; nineteenth-century mathematician
Willard Gibbs; English mathematician and scientist Thomas Hariot; and,
as previously noted, lawyer and business executive Wendell Willkie, who
ran for president on the 1940 Republican party ticket. Indeed, Rukeyser
wrote full-length biographies of the latter three men.
to Terris, one of Rukeyser's intentions behind writing biographies of
nonliterary persons was to find a meeting place between science and
poetry. In an analysis of Rukeyser's expository work The Life of Poetry,
Terris notes that Rukeyser was of the opinion that in the West, poetry
and science are wrongly considered to be in opposition to one another.
Thus, writes Terris, "Rukeyser [set] forth her theoretical acceptance of
science . . . [and pointed] out the many parallels between [poetry and
science]—unity within themselves, symbolic language, selectivity, the
use of the imagination in formulating concepts and in execution. Both,
she believe[d], ultimately contribute to one another."
critics were skeptical of this poet's attempts at interpreting history,
but for others Rukeyser's poetic angle brought something more to the
reader than could be expected from a biography in the strict sense.
Regarding Rukeyser's account entitled The Traces of Thomas Hariot,Washington Post Book World
critic Vincent Cronin stated: "By her carefully controlled imaginative
sympathy, by the dazzling range of her learning, and above all by the
poetry of her style she leads the reader further than he is ever likely
to go into the speculative seventeenth century, where daring men were
trying, on half-a-dozen fronts, to break through into what was to become
the modern world. . . . From now on, thanks to this highly enjoyable
trail-blazing book, Thomas Hariot will never be 'just another minor
Elizabethan.'" Commonweal reviewer E. L. Keyes viewed Rukeyser's biography of Willard Gibbs as an "intelligible collation of a mountain of mysteries."
Impassioned, self-confident, eclectic, a poet of powerful expression, a
poet of the political and the personal—these and similar phrases have
characterized the life and work of Muriel Rukeyser for decades. Although
the critics in Rukeyser's earlier, more prolific decades seldom agreed
on the value of her achievements, a new generation of reviewers had come
along by the time Rukeyser published The Collected Poems; and
in looking at the totality of her accomplishments, these critics found
cause for rejoicing. A year before Rukeyser's death, Hoffman concluded
that "poems like 'The Poem as Mask' make me wonder if Muriel Rukeyser is
not our greatest living American poet. The Collected Poems . .
. enable us to see a breadth of history, energy, and experience rarely
matched in American letters." As for Kessler, "any reading of
[Rukeyser's] poems will excite the best and most ingenious impulses of .
. . people everywhere, who want goodness and freedom and love in the
world and in their own personal lives. Rukeyser remained faithful and
consistent with her own youthful visions, and all this work [in The Collected Poems]. . . testifies to that."
Two books published after Rukeyser's death attest to a resurgence in her popularity, which waned after 1980. With Out of Silence: Selected Poems,
new readers were exposed to Rukeyser's poetry and literary historians
were reminded of her contributions. Lee Upton observed in Belles Lettres:
"The title of the selected poems . . . is particularly appropriate;
Rukeyser . . . , emerging from relative neglect, gives voice to the
repressed, particularly to the lives of women and the marginalized."
According to Anne Herzog of The Women's Review of Books, Rukeyser "articulated the thoughts and feelings of the unnoticed and excluded" in the poems selected for Out of Silence.
Rukeyser was "one of this country's most distinguished, misunderstood
and undervalued poets," Herzog added. Of the second book reviving
Rukeyser's prose and poetry, A Muriel Rukeyser Reader, Richard Gray wrote in Modern Language Review:
"She has been neglected: but this generous and sensitive selection of
her work will perhaps help redress the balance, introducing her to some
and reminding others how good she can be."
Poet, social activist, teacher, biographer, screenwriter,
dramatist, translator, and author of children's books. Before World War
II, worked for theaters and theater magazines and did office work; after
the war, she read poetry and taught; Sarah Lawrence College,
Bronxville, NY, member of faculty, 1946, 1956-67. House of Photography,
vice president, 1946-60. Sometime between 1930 and 1933, co-founded with
Elizabeth Bishop, Mary McCarthy, and Eleanor Clark a literary magazine,
Student Review, to protest the policies of the Vassar Review; later, the two magazines consolidated.
Theory of Flight, foreword by Stephen Vincent Benet, Yale University Press, 1935, reprinted, AMS Press, 1971.
Mediterranean, Writers and Artists Committee, Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy, 1938.
U.S. One, Covici, Friede, 1938.
A Turning Wind: Poems, Viking, 1939.
The Soul and Body of John Brown, privately printed, 1940.
Wake Island, Doubleday, 1942.
Beast in View, Doubleday, 1944.
The Green Wave (contains a section of translated poems of Octavio Paz and Rari), Doubleday, 1948.
Orpheus (with the drawing "Orpheus," by Picasso), Centaur Press, 1949.
Elegies, New Directions, 1949.
Selected Poems, New Directions, 1951.
Body of Waking (contains a section of translated poems of Paz), Harper, 1958.
Waterlily Fire: Poems 1935-1962 (including the group of poems entitled "The Speaking Tree"), Macmillan, 1962.
A poem (or more) will be offered by the hour or with the day and at the very least once a week. So stay on your webbed toes. The aim is to share good hearty-to-eat poetry. This is a birdhouse size file from the larger Longhouse which has been publishing from backwoods Vermont since 1971 books, hundreds of foldout booklets, postcards, sheafs, CD, landscape art, street readings, web publication, and notes left for the milkman. Established by Bob & Susan Arnold for your pleasure. The poems, essays, films & photographs on this site are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without the author's go-ahead.
Available from Longhouse. Please link on the image for ordering information. Drawing from years of poetry and also new poems, The Woodcutter Talks is Bob Arnold at his finest branching love poems with back country work poems and settlement with community, family and individual portraits. The extensive collection also showcases vintage photographs from woodcutters and woodchoppers and big-saw-pullers of old. Sweat runs down the cheeks of the mere literary and they adore one another.
Stone Hut by Bob Arnold
"Once again, my friends, this is your best book! Exquisite in design, fat enough to be a feast, pretty enough to just wade around in, but deep enough to dive into and stay with, all I can say is WOW, you guys really did it – it’s the first of its kind, a scrapbook novel that is also a how-to and a mystery -- how did he do it, and how does he make rocks balance like Thor? — Gerald Hausman" ~
Museum, An Unlikely Meditation, written by the poet Bob Arnold, is as much an unlikely novel. Visit this page for details.
Cid Corman's Of, Volumes 4 & 5 from Longhouse.
ANNOUNCING. The final volumes to Corman's opus in one book ~ of, volumes 4 & by Cid Corman. 1500 poems, 850 pages edited by Bob Arnold, now available in a limited edition from Longhouse, 2015. Please link on the cover image for details & Paypal payment information ~
'Fully a book ~
An interview with Bob Arnold on Cid Corman’s ‘of’
Janina by Janine Pommy Vega
New and available now from Longhouse ~ Janine Pommy Vega Janina Visions, Tales & Lovesongs 288 pages perfect bound packed with poems and photographs. Janine's full course album of photographs, travel journals, poems, facsimile notebooks of poems, childhood photographs, and family, Beat family, plus her unfinished memoir of Jerusalem.
Walking Woman with the Tambourine is the final book of poems by Janine Pommy Vega.
"Walking Woman with the Tambourine is the final book of poems by Janine Pommy Vega. The author completed the manuscript and left it as she wished with her executor Bob Arnold … New and available now from Longhouse ~ Poetry. 144 pages. Perfect bound softcover. Please link on the image for ordering information
New! James Koller : Selected Poems 2003-2004-2005
James Koller — Selected Poems 2003-2004-2005 Longhouse 2016, 72 pages, perfect bound. Please link on the cover image for details & Paypal payment information PLUS more from Longhouse
OPENINGS by JAMES KOLLER
Selected poems 1959 ~ 1985 edited by Bob Arnold. New and available now from Longhouse ~ 72 pages . Perfect bound softcover. Please link on the cover image for details & Paypal payment information PLUS more from Longhouse
Lorine Niedecker's A Cooking Book
A Cooking Book Lorine Niedecker Longhouse 2015 72 pages, perfect bound. Please link on the image to purchase this new title from Longhouse.
Kent Johnson's "I Once Met"
Visit the Birdhouse for Kent's book information :
Kim Dorman — "Owner"
"Owner" by Kim Dorman. Including photographs by Kim Dorman. Selected and edited by Bob Arnold. New and available now from Longhouse 2016 ~ 80 pages. Perfect bound softcover
"Heretic" by John Phillips from Longhouse
New from Longhouse ~ John Phillips "Heretic". Poems with collages by the author. Click on the image for more ~
J.D. WHITNEY'S SELECTED POEMS ~ NEW FROM LONGHOUSE!
J.D. Whitney ~Sweeping the Broom Shorter Selected Poems 1964-2014 from ~ Longhouse 2014. 192 pages. Please link on the cover image for details & Paypal payment information PLUS more from Longhouse
Or, try this cover of JD Whitney's Selected Poems
J.D. Whitney ~Sweeping the Broom Shorter Selected Poems 1964-2014 from ~ Longhouse 2014. 192 pages. Please link on the cover image for details & Paypal payment information PLUS more from Longhouse
New! from Longhouse ~ Island Dreams by Gerald Hausman Please link for details & Paypal payment
ISLAND DREAMS by GERALD HAUSMAN Selected Poems 1968 ~ 2015 chosen & edited by Bob Arnold New and available now from Longhouse ~ 160 pages Perfect bound softcover. Please link on the cover image for details & Paypal payment information PLUS more from Longhouse
John Bradley's "And Thereby Everything"
L O N G H O U S E is very proud to announce a new book by John Bradley in their on going series of S C O U T book publications — other titles from the series have been by Kent Johnson, Janine Pommy Vega, James Koller, Bob Arnold and Lorine Niedecker with more in the works. An opening salvo at the front of the book by Patrick Lawler should provide ample cover for what the reader should come to expect. And Thereby Everything John Bradley Longhouse 2015 First edition only issued in softcover 208 pages, perfect bound illustrated throughout by Bob Arnold with 150 photographs
Dudley Laufman : Bull & More Bull
Visit this page for information on this new Longhouse by Dudley Kaufman (2016)
Dudley Laufman's Islandian Poems
The Islandian Poems & Fables Dudley Laufman Longhouse 2015. 72 pages, perfect bound. Please link on the image to purchase this new title from Longhouse.
MIRZA ABD AL-QADER BIDEL / ROBIN MAGOWAN ~
New from Longhouse. Please click on the image
New from Longouse ~ Robin Magowan
New from Longhouse. Robin Magowan. The Garden of Amazement, Scattered Gems After Sâeb. large softcover glossy bound with an introduction by the translator, 112 pages
Duo by Bob Arnold — New from Longhouse Please link to A Longhouse Birdhouse for more information
DUO Bird Poems by BOB ARNOLD. New and available now from Longhouse ~ 92 pages. Perfect bound softcover. Please link on the cover image for details & Paypal payment information PLUS more from Longhouse
Start With The Tree by Bob Arnold
New in 2015. Building a marriage, building a family, building a small barn out in the woodlands together as a family, as a marriage, and seeing the roof go on. Over 150 color photographs
Beautiful Days by Bob Arnold
Beautiful Days ~ new poems of living and working in the Vermont woodlands and to Hurricane Irene
Yokel by Bob Arnold
[from "Yokel, A Long Green Mountain Poem" by Bob Arnold] ~ that and more at Bob Arnold webpage of books & poems: Please link on this image for more
Go West by Bob Arnold
Filled with poems and travel photography — shares one cross-country trip the couple took in the mid-1980s to California from Vermont.
"I'm In Love With You Who Is In Love With Me" by Bob Arnold
from Bob Arnold's new book "I'm In Love With You Who Is In Love With Me" ~~~~~~~40 years of love poems
"Rain Bear" by Bob Arnold
Bob Arnold's first children's book "Rain Bear" New and available now from Longhouse ~ 50 pages. Perfect bound softcover with photographs ~ & drawings by Jason Clark