Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Robert Singer

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America


Muriel Rukeyser, Documentary, Poetry, The Book of the Dead, Gauley Bridge


Muriel Rukeyser’s poetry has always focused around a particular event be it something of global proportions such as the Spanish Civil War (Mediterranean) or the Japanese occupation of Korea (The Gates) or, as with The Book of the Dead, a specific disaster closer to her home, America. Her poetry, however, never exists purely in the realm of politics; she never aligned herself with any particular political party and consequently her poetry is never simply a call to arms or a manifesto in verse. Throughout the body of Rukeyser’s work there are echoes and allusions to poetic traditions, both American and International, contemporary and older.

This thesis proposes to examine the interplay of Rukeyser’s specific focus, separate from her politics, and her use of and attitude towards poetic traditions. Rukeyser’s collection The Book of the Dead will be the focus of this examination. The collection is made up of twenty separate poems of varying styles and incorporates a number of poetic techniques. The most important, or perhaps the recognized, is reportage, a common technique among modernist poets. Rukeyser tells the story of the Gauley Tunnel tragedy, an industrial disaster which occurred in West Virginia in the early 1930s.

Rukeyser’s use of reportage and documentation will be investigated along side its use among her contemporaries. Additionally Rukeyser’s allusions to other figures in American Poetry, with particular reference to Whitman as dictated by the collection, will be looked to in order to discover what else is at play in The Book of the Dead. If Rukeyser is merely attempting to bring a voice— a poetic voice— to those silenced why then would she incorporate others who have one? Is it a criticism or a continuation?