Monday, July 02, 2007
Rukeyser, Wheelwright, and Olson
Today, I had my first experience in a library archive. At the nudging of Lisa Jarnot, I visited the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library. I was supposed to be researching magazines, but got distracted by the fact that the library contains a Muriel Rukeyser archive. I was limited on time so I chose to read the letters of two poets who had written to Rukeyser, Olson and Wheelwright. In a reprinted letter to Cid Corman Olson refers to a type of poetry that is "o not pretty yet but will be (Rukeyser or lazy leftists)." This quote made me wonder about Rukeyer's relationship to Olson. Was he being sarcastic? Or did he really dislike the communist movement? I later found out that Olson was heavily into Roosevelt and a worker for the Democratic party. I did find one letter from Olson to Rukeyser in the archive. Note: with one exception that is a secret between my father & I, this was the first orginal letter I have held in my hands. The letter was very warm. It was addressed to Muriel in Venice, Calfiornia and made note to something pertaining to a script. I was particularly touched because the letter was written right after Rukeyser gave birth to her son, and Olson send them his warm wishes. Peter Bear (who grew up in Gloucester) told me that when the Maximus poems where published they were sold at the local department store right between "The Sound of Music" and "Summers in Gloucester."
The second group of letters was from John Wheelwright to Rukeyer. I learned of their friendship while looking through the database before going to the library. Wheelwright is a poet with little or no attention. He struggled to make his poetry known during his life time and it has largely disappeared sense. (Ashberry, however, wrote a brilliant essay about Wheelwright -- I don't have the title of the book right here). Wheelwright is of special interest to me because he was related to the aforementioned Peter (great-uncle by marriage although not Wheelwright's own as he was homosexual). I didn't know that Wheelwright and Rukeyser were friends and collegues. Rukeyser also planned to publish a magazine (Housatonic) for which she had accepted Wheelwright's work. In the letters Wheelwright says the strangest thing: Nothing has happened to me except that I have not married. The tone in the letter is sad -- yet why would he marry? He also mentions a resistance to going to Yaddo -- a scene of which Muriel was part of at the time -- and seems insecure that he will be included should he want to attend. The letters are full of these kind of insecurities. The glue that most held these two poets together was their commitment to Communism.
While both poets had difficulty with noteriety in their lifetimes, Wheelwright, however, did not find the posthumous (sp?) success that Rukeyser did through the feminst moment and the great folks at Paris Press. Although her books were out of print throughout the 70's, 80's, and early 1990's, she had a comback with "Out of Silence" in 1992 -- twelve years after her death. During her lifetime, she was notably excluded from Donald Allen's anthology for reasons which are unclear to me.