Monday, July 02, 2007


Today, I am misisng a cat. I can't find Muffin anywhere. I think she might be hiding from the noise. The city is tearing up my street and the noise is horrendous. It reminds me of the story William Rukeyser tells of his mother: "She believed in the nobility of labor, but she recognized the absurdity of a lot of it. I remember her closely observing, from her bedroom window, a Con Ed crew at the corner of York and 88th, That crew dug holes in the pavement, covered them with steel plates, and then paved them over." William, who Muriel referred to in her letters as Laurie, describes his mother as a strong poet full of contradictions unwilling to tow any party's line, except her own. She was a lesbian, but slept with men. She was a feminist, but focused more in her writing and activism on injustices against the poor and Blacks. She was a poet, but wrote prose, children's books, and biographies.

While some of her poems are intensely romantic/sexual, Rukeyser was intensely private in her life. In one of the folios at the Berg, there is a series of unaddressed love letters and notes. The letters are full of such passion, one wonders for whom they were meant. An even more curious letter is one that Rukeyser addressed to herself in Provincetown Aug. 23, 1935 (even then, a mecca for gays and poets!) Rukeyser tells herself (or the later reader),

"I have wanted so wildly all these years without satisfaction that I think I could spend my life in bed with the Holy Ghost, Father, and the Son and still never be filled except in self-filling torment."

This has so many connations some of which verge of the sacreligious. In church we refer to being filled with spirit of the Lord, although Rukeyser was Jewish. There is also the cruder reading of a description of sex. The "letter" could also refer to the lot of a poet -- always craving more of poetry and like. The ending of the letter gives a glimpse into the cause of Rukeyser's depression. "See how a day can change your life....a telegram arrives...I smile, I smile."

Another correspondence which caught my notice was that between Rukeyser and Albert Einstein. I am not sure if this has ever been published. Rukeyser wrote a biography of the scientist Willard Gibbs. She asked Einstein to write an introduction. Einstein's reply in extremely harsh. (I will just put a few lines because one in not actually allowed to quote unpublished work).

"This (writing such a text) can only by done by someone.....grasp the material....personal side must be taken account of but it should not be the chief thing.....result is banal hero-worship....I have learned how hateful it is when a serious man is lionized....I cannot give my public endorsement to such an undertaking."

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