Two Poems

by Julia Spicher Kasdorf

"We are against war and the sources of war. We are for poetry and the sources of poetry," says poet and activist Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980) in The Life of Poetry, a strange book of poetics published in 1949 that I return to again and again. Her big idea—that poetry is an active force as potent as the weaknesses that can lead to war—I continue to ponder. Americans fear poetry because they fear feeling. The work of poetry is the task of discovering and sharing how we feel and how we remember. As a practice of emotional literacy, poetry has the potential to overcome the failures of imagination and vision that afflict human relations. When I was in graduate school, mid-1980s, all of Rukeyser’s work was out of print, so we staged public readings of her poems and prose. My teacher and final project advisor, Sharon Olds, had come to poetry in mid-life, as a student in Rukeyser’s workshops. No doubt Rukeyser’s ideas informed her pedagogical practice and work and come to us as influence. One of my classmates, Jan Freeman, founded Paris Press to reprint The Life of Poetry. And the longer I write, the more I find myself working in the public and personal and blatant ways that Rukeyser worked herself, especially in her later years.

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