Godmother to Poets

An introduction to Muriel Rukeyser


Each week on our sister podcast, Read Me a Poem, Amanda Holmes reads suggestions from listeners around the world. Recently, a listener requested a longer work by the poet Muriel Rukeyser, whose poetry is not as widely known 40 years after her death as it should be. Holmes joins us this week to discuss why Rukeyser’s work speaks to her and then to read the long poem cycle “Letter to the Front,” written in 1944.

Go beyond the episode:

  • Listen to Amanda Holmes each week on the Read Me a Poem podcast
  • Read “Letter to the Front” by Muriel Rukeyser
  • Try not to chuckle as Rukeyser reads her poem “Waiting for Icarus,” written from the perspective of the ill-fated man’s wife
  • The Book of the Dead (1938), reissued in 2018 by West Virginia University Press, was written in response to the 1931 Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster, in which hundreds of miners, mostly Black, died of silicosis. Rukeyser combined her own observations with trial testimony from the surviving miners’ lawsuit against their employer.
  • “In moments of desperation, a favorite poem has resurfaced lately, sometimes on Twitter and sometimes in memory,” writes Sam Huber in The Paris Review, of Rukeyser’s “Poem” from 1968 that begins “I lived in the first century of world wars”

Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.

SubscribeiTunes • Feedburner • Stitcher • Google Play • Acast

Download the audio here (right click to “save link as …”)

Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


Please enter a valid email address
That address is already in use
The security code entered was incorrect
Thanks for signing up