Muriel Rukeyser was born on December 15, 1913, so this year marks her centennial. While at Vassar College she founded – along with Elizabeth Bishop, Mary McCarthy, and Eleanor Clark – an undergraduate literary magazine called Con Spirito. Rukeyser was in Spain as its civil war erupted, reported on its tumultuous first days, and remained politically committed all of her life, becoming president of the American Center of PEN from 1975-76. Her debut collection Theory of Flight won the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1935, and subsequent works included her Collected Poems and A Muriel Rukeyser Reader. In an introduction to Selected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser, published in 2004, Adrienne Rich wrote:
Reading Muriel Rukeyser, writing about her as I have from time to time, I have come to feel more and more the power of her work and presence in American literature—the many kinds of lives and issues she touched, the silences she broke, the voices she made audible, the landscapes she covered. In our own time of crisis, when the idea of perpetual war has dropped whatever masks it ever wore, when poetry is still feared yet no longer so marginalized, when a late-1920s schoolgirl’s perception of the ‘grim towers of empire’ and ‘the terrible, murderous differences in the way people lived’ accord with what more and more people around the world are experiencing and naming, this poet has readers waiting for her….
We’re featuring Rukeyser’s poetry all weekend, beginning with “Gift”:
the child, the poems, the child, the poems, the journeys
back and forth across our long country
and through myself, through you, away from you, toward
you, the dreams of madness and of an
impossible complete time—
gift be forgiven.
(From Selected Poems, Library of America © 1978 by Muriel Rukeyser. Reprinted by permission of ICM Partners)