The Life of Poetry


The Life of Poetry

12.95 16.95

By Muriel Rukeyser

Introduction by Jane Cooper

Originally published in 1949, reissued in 1974, and brought back into print by Paris Press in 1996.

Also by Muriel Rukeyser: Houdini: A Musical, The Orgy

6 x 9, 256 pp
ISBN: 978-0-9638183-3-1

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The Life of Poetry is an interdisciplinary book that explores American culture. This collection of essays addresses Americans' fear of feeling and how that fear contributes to the devaluation of the arts, especially poetry, in the United States.  Through discussions of history, science, film, literature, mathematics, the visual arts, dance, theater, and politics, Rukeyser speaks to Americans who are intimidated or bored by poetry; she also speaks to those who love it.  At the center of this book is Rukeyser's belief that a culture is more compassionate and humane when it embraces, uses, and lives with poetry and the arts.

Comments & Reviews

"Muriel Rukeyser loved poetry more than anyone I've ever known. She also believed it could change us, move the world. This deep and challenging book is testament to her faith that we need not encounter Poetry with fear. That openness to Poetry opens us to our most essential inner life." — Alice Walker

“The Life of Poetry is a lost American classic restored to us by Paris Press. In 1949 Rukeyser understood the breadth and potential of our continent's poetries as few have done since and as we look in the face of the 'fear of poetry' she names, and its monsters, this book seems written for us. What does poetry have to do with democracy? Read it here. Jane Cooper's forward provides a vivid context.” — Adrienne Rich 

"The Life of Poetry has the urgency of saying what one believes in the face of crisis — crisis of the spirit and crisis in the world…. Rukeyser's book is about poetry, always, and also about much more.… modern film, jazz, war, science, musical comedy, her own childhood and youth…. A brilliant mind fiercely at work." — The New York Times Book Review

"Like most of Muriel Rukeyser's work, The Life of Poetry  has been out of print for twenty years, so its reappearance is a genuine cultural event. Mainly it's a collection of talks Rukeyser gave in the forties, in America at a time of war. Written in an expansive prose — poetic style, it's a scarily beautiful book, almost disorienting in its clarity.... Muriel Rukeyser unspools one of the most passionate arguments I've ever read for the notion that art creates meeting places, that poetry creates democracy.... 'Meeting Place' is her mantra, and it means linking the public to a cumulative privacy of people, to living. It's a staunch reminder at a moment when global culture is evincing such a horror of the small. And poetry's so tiny it's universal: A famous painter might be invited by The New York Times to give us a tour of the Met to show us what he knows, but for poets there's no such building, or even bookstore. It's simply the world. The Life of Poetry takes us on a whirlwind tour of Rukeyser's interests, the niches she found herself in. She liked this century, and her liking was not wholly abstract. Her frequent allusions to film, for instance, are grounded in experience, not theory.... It's great to come to such an American book, a World War II book — the intimacy of understanding firsthand that Franklin Roosevelt fearlessness. 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself' is pretty good poetry, Rukeyser agrees; the greater poetry is invisibly in the millions of listeners' homes — they're allowing the President in. So we arrive; the moment of history is a meeting place. It's like the shared sense of danger in a darkening theater: 'We sit here, very different each from the other, until the passion arrives to give us our equality, to make us part of the play... the play part of us.' The passion she speaks of is worthy of our fear. It's history."  Eileen Myles, The Nation

"The reappearance of [Muriel Rukeyser's] remarkable The Life of Poetry, originally published in 1949, is an event to celebrate. No ordinary book of criticism, The Life of Poetry is written in a prose which resembles lava overflowing, molten, incoherent, cooling into shapes whose seeming resistance to hard-edged form bespeaks the intense intellectual heat and explosiveness of their origin.... To read it is to enter a mind seething with the flow of connection between poetry and everything else." Alicia Ostriker, The Hungry Mind Review