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New “Poetry of America” Recordings: Muriel Rukeyser and Lisa Jarnot

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Here’s a treat for your poetry-craving brain: We’ve just added two new audio recordings to our “Poetry of America” series. As of today, you can now tune in to hear Linda Gregerson discuss Muriel Rukeyser’s “Poem Out of Childhood,” and Elizabeth Willis as she explores Lisa Jarnot’s “The Bridge.”

First launched in 2013 as a counterpart to the Library of Congress’ “Songs of America” project, “Poetry of America” is a collection of field recordings made by contemporary American poets. Poets choose a singular poem written by another American poet from any time in the nation’s history, record themselves reading the poem, and provide commentary that probes how the poem connects to, deepens, or re-imagines a sense of the nation. Each participating poet also contributes a poem of their own, which is included alongside the recorded feature.

We’ve provided an excerpt from each new recording below, but make sure to click through, read, and listen to get the full experience.

Linda Gregerson reads and discusses Muriel Rukeyser’s “Poem Out of Childhood”

[Muriel Rukeyser, bust portrait, facing right] / photo by Lotte Jacobi, 1942. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

“‘Poem Out of Childhood’ is the very first poem in Rukeyser’s first book, Theory of Flight, and it features, front and center, the political manifesto from which she would never depart. ‘Not Angles, angels,’ ‘Not Sappho, Sacco.’ Rukeyser had no patience for the artificial sequestrations of poetry and politics, private imagination and collective history. She was six months old when Gavrilo Prinzip shot the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo; she always considered herself to have been born under the sign of war.

We are creatures of history, she believed; we take it in as we take in air and milk. And, although there is ignorance aplenty, some of it deadly, there is no such thing as perfect innocence, if to be innocent means to be untouched. Rukeyser was fierce in her insistence that the world was one: a tsunami born in Asia moves across the waters to North America; a shooting in Sarajevo means slaughtered millions from the Caucasus to France; the dividends paid to pensioners by Union Carbide are just a little larger because miners in West Virginia have been allowed to die of silicosis.”

Elizabeth Willis reads and discusses Lisa Jarnot’s “The Bridge”

Lisa Jarnot. Credit: Joan Beard.

“There’s an underlying imperative here to fulfill the immense potential of the poem, and the poet isn’t given the space to do this—she has to make the world of the poem, to say the thing that only she can say, to fulfill the assignment that she has been given in the night, as if her life depends on it, as I think it does. And that assignment seems to touch on every aspect of relation, of social and domestic life, of the history of poetry and the history of this country, which is still being written, and which like that of the Peloponnesians who appear at the end of the poem, is at war, with the world and with itself.

The poem is considering what survives and what is momentary, what lasts and what the poem has the opportunity or responsibility to represent. There are relational patterns that survive, there is poetry that survives, but also a history of violence, which means, among other things, that the task of the poet, to create something counter to that history, is undiminished.”


  1. To read this blog in the early morning light was so uplifting because both of these sensitive women poets are so articulate and full of wisdom. I had turned on the radio this morning to hear some music before getting to teach school as a retired English teacher to be in classroom of fifth graders today. The music was full of gibberish and “dumb.” So I turned it off. Then to find these words that were carefully crafted over hours of thought was simply wonderful. Like night and day – the difference of the music on the radio and the evening news …and the words of these women! I was just reading about World War 1 with my granddaughter as she prepared for her college final in Western Civilization. So the remarks the beginning of the war were so fitting. I was born in West Virginia and watched my neighbors die from “black lung” or silicosis. I saw miners coming home covered with black cold dust and then suffer from it.Thank you, Muriel Kukeyer and Lisa Jarnot for filling my morning with some joy (and the Library of Congress).

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