Never mind the contemporary dominance of the personal lyric written by a lone voice, poetry has always demanded a social role. Muriel Rukeysers The Life of Poetry (1949) is a classic contribution to the theory of a poets political task. She lived from 1913 to 1980 and from the beginning of her writing career she expected a public life for her poetry with the full personal commitment of both poet and reader. She engaged with politics as a practising poet: at 19, she went to help the Spanish Civil War in Barcelona; in 1975, she visited Vietnam with Denise Levertov. Her political work gave her the material of poems. Found material An extended poem, The Book of the Dead, written in 1938 when Rukeyser was 25, uses researched material (legal documents, journalism and interviews) arising from a scandal over the deaths of workers during the construction of Gauley Tunnel in West Virginia. Thus, the poems formal structure derives from community texts. Found or quoted text is blended subtly with abstract and lyrical reflection.
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