Thursday, March 21, 2013

some thoughts on Rukeyser/Symposium

In 1977 Audre Lorde spoke of poetry “as a revelatory distillation of experience.” “For women,” Lorde explained, “poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives” (Sister Outsider 37).

Muriel Rukeyser seemed to understand these ideas when she began publishing her poems in the 1930s, and clearly attests to in the Life of Poetry published in (1949). The flyer for the Rukeyser symposium includes the quote “Breathe in experience, Breathe out poetry.” What you may or not already know is that this is actually the first line in the first poem in her first published book, Theory of Flight. Rukeyser absolutely begins and ends in a poetics of experience, a practice in which poems are carved from the experiences of our lives. I think for Lorde and for Rukeyser this begins with the personal, and over their bodies of work opens, or transcends the personal.
The function of breath is the most ordinary and necessary of bodily functions. And as one learns in a yoga practice, it is also essential to the development of the mind-body relationship. The breath is central to the development and control of the mind, and poetry is an ordinary consequence of living from one moment to the next. But poetry, for Rukeyser, is not ordinary in any disparaging sense. Rukeyser makes ordinary language and poetic content function extra-ordinarily, and she believes that poetry, especially, is a kind of knowledge and resource that we are surrounded by, yet which often goes unused. In The Life of Poetry she writes,“it seems to me that we cut ourselves off, that we impoverish ourselves, just here. I think that we are ruling out one source of power, one that is precisely what we need.” In ways similar to and different from other modern women poets Rukeyser creates poems that are layered with poetic tradition, attentive to formal strategy, and that include content that is political but not didactic. Her poems are “ordinary”—using language that generally more common to her contemporary, everyday language—but not naïve or anti-intellectual. She writes of workers, women issues, and social and political events using language that often shifts registers in terms of tone, style, sound, and often includes reference to poetic predecessors as well as contemporary literary and social figures. Rukeyser continuously maintains the poetic/aesthetic space as one of mediation, process, reflection, and commentary in a way that is ordinary and as a specialized resource for contemporary culture, specifically in relation to the ways in which it can be written, read, and used toward the opening of social and political possibility.

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