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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

'Breathe-in' experiences

“A work of art is one through which the consciousness of the artist is able to give its emotions to anyone who is prepared to receive them. There is no such thing as bad art.” – Muriel Rukeyser

Born on this date in 1913, Rukeyser was an American poet and political activist, best known for her poems about equality, feminism, social justice, and Judaism.  Critic and fellow writer Kenneth Rexroth said that she was the greatest poet of her "exact generation."

One of her most powerful pieces was a group of poems entitled The Book of the Dead (1938), documenting the details of the Hawk's Nest incident in West Virginia, an industrial disaster in which hundreds of miners died of silicosis.   That followed closely on the heels of her coverage of the Scottsboro Boys case in Alabama (as a journalist), and her work for the International Labor Defense, 
 which handled the defendants' appeals.   Her writings on the case were among those used in the creation of the award-winning Broadway show by the same name.

Throughout her life (she died in 1980) she traveled to all the world’s hot spots, including the Spanish Civil War in the ‘30s, the war fronts during World War II and Korea, and to Vietnam, primarily using her powerful poetic style to speak out on behalf of what she considered to be injustice or mistreatment.   A play about her life with a working title of Throat of These Hours is being developed from her poem Speed of Darkness.

The key to powerful and expressive writing, she said, was experience.  “Breathe-in experience.  Breathe-out poetry.”

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