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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Our 'witness' to understanding

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” – Muriel Rukeyser

Born on this date in 1913, Rukeyser was called by critic Kenneth Rexroth “the greatest poet of her exact generation.”  Also one of the leading American activists of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, she was best known for her poems about equality, feminism and social justice.

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, an industrial disaster in West Virginia in which hundreds of miners died of silicosis.  She said that she was drawn to write her testament and testimony to their spirits.  “The sources of poetry are in the spirit seeking completeness,” she said.

A leading journalist as well as poet, she wrote on both the American and world scene, covering events like the Scottsboro Case in Alabama and The Spanish Civil War.   Good writing, she said, is not only needed but essential –  to democracy, human life and understanding.
"I should like to use another word (about both                     
 reporting and writing),” she said.  “I suggest the old word 'witness,' which includes the act of seeing and knowing by personal experience, as well as the act of giving evidence.  Nothing less is demanded of us.”

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