Muriel Rukeyser, on the root of our resistance to poetry

“However confused the scene of our life appears, however torn we may be who now do face that scene, it can be faced, and we can go on to be whole.”

One sweltering New York afternoon some years ago, I was sitting across from a dear friend several decades my senior as I mentioned, with the matter-of-factly, arrogant naiveté of someone who does that sort of thing, that I didn’t care for poetry. Without missing a beat, she began reciting e.e. cummings in the middle of that bustling Manhattan café. And just like that, everything changed — this was the beginning.

But even though Joseph Brodsky believed that poetry is the key to developing our taste in culture and James Dickey wrote that it “makes possible the deepest kind of personal possession of the world,” my reaction that summer Tuesday was far from uncommon — as a society, we seem to harbor a strange resistance to poetry, a stubborn refusal to recognize that it contains what Wordsworth called “the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge.”

It’s a resistance that “has the qualities of fear.” So argues the magnificent Muriel Rukeyser in the 1949 treasure The Life of Poetry (public library) — a wise and wonderful exploration of all the ways in which we keep ourselves from the gift of an art so elemental yet so transcendent, so infinitely soul-stretching, so capable of Truth.

– via brainpickings

Leave a Reply