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Ex Libris - Jan Freeman on Muriel Rukeyser

Muriel Rukeyser's The book of the dead. Responsibility Tim Dayton. Imprint Columbia : University of Missouri Press, c Physical description x, p. Online Available online.

Full view. But the way Hamlet finishes results in particular effects: catharsis, moral instruction, and so on. In poetry, genres have particular techniques of closure that coincide with their goals as well: for example, conventionally, a sonnet offers an argument about love in 14 lines. If The Book of the Dead is not an elegy because it offers us no closure, what is it? One alternative, the one I like best, is to understand it as an epic.

Epics are not just travel narratives of adventure, they are also the foundational texts of their civilizations that often outline how the civilization was founded, but always offer an account of its values. The Book of the Dead , like an epic, tells us how we got here but more importantly, it tells us who we are. It tells us what — and who — we value as a civilization, as a culture, and what — and who — we do not.

Like other epics, the voices of many people, each telling their own story, get braided together. Is Rukeyser remembering this other story of the subterranean when she channels her voices of the dead?

The Book of the Dead

Terza rima works in interlocked three-line stanzas where the first and third lines rhyme but the second line rhymes with the first line of the next stanza. Tercets — three-line stanzas — frequently appear throughout The Book of the Dead. Sometimes the first and third lines rhyme, as when Juanita Tinsley speaks:. So too is Rukeyser. Some of them, like Fra Alberigo, were still alive when Dante set the Inferno.


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Dante the narrator of the Inferno asks the people he meets why they are in Hell, but Dante the poet is the one who judged them and put them there. So too Rukeyser shares with us the voices of the damned — those condemned to death by silicosis as they worked beneath the ground, but also those who will surely find themselves in Hell.

Dante shares the memories of the damned with us so that we readers avoid their fate.

Modern American Poetry

The dead have received their justice and are being justly punished. Rukeyser here asks us to remember the damned precisely because they have not received justice. Memory is the means, justice the end. The Book of the Dead is, of course, for the living. It asks us to join in the labor of memory, which, if we keep moving on — down name and road, holding on to the past to bring it into the present — will lead us in the direction of that justice. There is an event planned for March 1 at Taylor Books! This new edition includes an excellent introductory essay by Catherine Venable Moore.

Medical-industrial Discourses: Muriel Rukeyser's "The Book of the Dead".

Read more about this landmark publication here. Rukeyser also employs dialectics to delve beneath the surfaces of capitalist reification and exploitation to reveal a deeper truth. Through Rukeyser's bonding with an ecological level apparent in her earlier italicized quotations from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, she prepares readers for her final section attempt to rectify the degraded ecology, to offer a new whole by revealing the larger dimensions of the human and ecological tragedy, and by restoring the balance through the modernist design of her poem.

Rukeyser's elegaic, page poem "The Book of the Dead" considers the significance of the to 2, mostly black migrant workers who died of acute silicosis from a Union Carbide mining operation in the Gauley Bridge-New River Gorge area of West Virginia between and the largest industrial tragedy in American history.

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The most recent scholarly essays on "The Book of the Dead" investigate Rukeyser's use of Popular Front documentary realism to indict Union Carbide greed Shulman, Thurston , her desire to witness and mourn the deaths of the black workers while exposing the injustice of corporate obfuscation Lowney , her utopian Marxist urge toward the potential overthrow of constricting economic conditions Dayton , and her use of film montage and relational thinking to convert surface vision into truth and collective knowledge Hartman.

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