But Rukeyser wrote enough to leave her artistic legacy mixed. While there is certainly no native opposition between poetry and politics, Rukeyser’s passion for radical social causes left a good part of her poetry feeling stilted and forced. Especially as the Cold War unfolded, Rukeyser’s worker-centered social protest cast a shadow over her career. She was monitored by the federal government until the 1970s. But her ecstatic love for the fundamental good in human beings, and her faith in the making of a better world, breathes through her work. Her humor gives it buoyancy. “O for God’s sake,” she wrote in a poem called “Islands,” “they are connected underneath…
April is the cruelest month, I’ve heard a poet say
But not for me because there’s Poem in Your Pocket Day
Each year, I get to publish my new verse – it’s quite a perk
Too bad reporters always ask me to describe my work
California poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera dropped in on NPR as guest DJ last week, and you can listen to the full thirty-minute radio show, as well as five of the tracks he played.
“Maybe I’m too suggestible, but I’ve a habit of absorbing bits of books I read. I used to think it was like literary osmosis — natural, spontaneous — but I’ve since noticed a primary trigger: food. In this respect, perhaps it’s more like literary Inception — involuntary, unconscious. Food references grab my attention even when they’re wildly inappropriate. I bought a doughnut right as I started reading Skippy Dies.”
[Photo: Ezra Pound’s edits of T. S. Eliot’s original.]
The whole Sylvia Plath life story has been approached in a reductionist way. I wanted to do something different. Because when I read her journals I see someone who’s so lively, so hungry for life, and really engaged in the world in a relatable way.
The figure of Baudelaire – dandy, rebel, enfant terrible, hysterical hypochondriac — compels such fascination that it’s almost possible to forget he wrote a few poems too.