“Those men and women / Brave, setting up signals across vast distances”
Gigliola Sacerdoti Mariani
1. “The buried, the wasted and the lost”
When I was asked to take part in this research project—“Networking Wo/men: Subjects, Places, Links: Europe-America, 1890–1939”—and I proposed the name of Muriel Rukeyser as the subject/link of my study, I had already published a few essays on her work.  I knew that she had given all of her manuscripts, letters and notes to the New York Public Library, but I could not figure out what precious contribution the thorough analysis of those documents would bring to our entire research.
I must admit that when I first touched that material (at the beginning of January 1999), I was astonished or, better, overwhelmed, at the view of piles and piles of papers, that had belonged to Rukeyser, lying on the shelves of the Berg Collection. I immediately recalled a line of hers: “There is also, in any history, the buried, the wasted and the lost”; it is a fragment that does not belong to a poem, but is to be found in The Life of Poetry,  a book of theory and criticism described in 1950 as “ambitious,” “profound” and “demanding.” This meaningful line opens chapter six and, precisely, its first paragraph, which is entitled “Choice and the Past.”
“Buried,” “wasted,” “lost.” In front of me I could see an unpredictable amount of folders buried under folders, notes buried under notes—wasted, lost history—letters under letters, that had been separated from the envelopes they belonged to—I do not know by whom, I do not understand why. Nobody, as far as I could tell, had ever examined that material before, nobody had quoted it; what I knew for sure was that I did not want to lose that buried treasure Muriel Rukeyser seemed to have left to us, seemed to have saved for us, to be explored, exploited, arranged, selected. Paraphrasing the titles of the book and the paragraph I have just mentioned, I felt that, through those cherished pieces, I could make a “choice of her past,” “give it a new life.” And I immediately realized they would certainly reveal Rukeyser’s connections and relationships—the ones I was looking for, in order to contribute to the construction of networking paths between our wo/men.
2. “Rare intellectual bird of communication”
I was amazed at the view of Rukeyser’s papers because of their number; but other complex emotions and expectations were aroused in me, which—I believe—happen to be stirred up when one works on archival material, on documents that have never been published before.
I understood that Rukeyser, who had brought the events of the world into poetry and poetry into the world, and who had written a lot about herself, had intended to save a special chapter of her biography. And much more. As a matter of fact, besides the typescripts of several of her books and the manuscripts of some of her famous pages—which I believe most writers commonly wish to keep for themselves and their posterity—Rukeyser had saved all sorts of apparently meaningless notes. In the Berg Collection I found small torn pieces of paper where, in her elegant handwriting, she had jotted down phrases, ideas, suggestive words (literature, indeed!); I happened to discover an envelope, on the back of which she had written her shopping list—blueberries and cantaloupe among other things—and an incomplete sonnet; a business reply card (that was to be sent to a telephone company of New York), on the back of which she had scribbled a few lines on loneliness; a single sheet of paper where she had typed the carbon copy of a letter to President Roosevelt together with the one sent to Paul Muni, the famous actor. But most of the folders contained her correspondents’ letters, dated 1932–1976.
I was puzzled. I wondered why Rukeyser had saved all those letters, and the envelopes too, for more than forty years. We do not need the help of psychology to understand that saving her correspondence was a way of keeping the memory of herself and of her ideological, political, poetical changes through different periods of life, together with the memory of the people she was connected with; it was a means of keeping “control” of her subjects / places/ links—her wealth of human meanings and resources. I also believe this was a way of communicating that she did not want to reject or dismiss anything of her life.
I also searched for an answer to my puzzlement in what I knew about her. From the earliest moments of her career, she had cried out for total communication, against the indifference of the intellectuals who would retreat to an “ivory tower” ; she had seen the writer as one who would always be in readiness to receive, in readiness to respond; she had sought a poetics of relationship and process; moreover, she used to say that poems were “meeting places” (see below). In that definition I found a partial answer to my perplexity. Her correspondence, the letters she wrote and the ones she received, were probably also meeting places, disclosing undefined possibilities. They were “localities”—using the term we have adopted within our research—where she would encounter “those men and women / Brave, setting up signals across vast distances”; and the meanings of those “signals,” once transferred to the New York Public Library, would be shared with her readers.
3. “Signals across vast distances”
The reason why I have chosen the above quoted lines for the title of my paper is twofold. First, they seem to reiterate and mirror (or should I say foreshadow?) the main concepts of the title of our research and our conference. Think of the hyphenated expression “Europe-America,” that has geographical, historical, ideological implications which seem to correspond to Rukeyser’s “vast distances.” Think of those “men and women” that are included within the two titles. Think of those “signals” and compare them to the “sphere of signs” of our research project, which Marina Camboni refers to in her introduction. Secondly, those lines belong to a lyric that covers and frames some of the events that Rukeyser was aware had shaped her life, her vision of the dynamic ebb and flow of reality:
“Poem” (this is the remarkably simple and elegant title of the composition) was published in 1968, in the volume entitled Speed of Darkness, but I do not know when it was written. It doubtless reveals Rukeyser’s understanding of the powerful relationships that exist between history, consciousness and creativity. And now, thanks to the papers I have analyzed, I can assert that she developed that understanding in the course of the years under scrutiny in the present research (1932-1942). Indeed the documents I found in the Berg Collection—some of which are attached to the records in our web site —besides giving a clear perspective on her participation in the debate on modernist poetics, offer paradigms for tracing her “links” in general and what I would call her “connections” between her Jewish identity and her principles of relationship and witnessing.
4. “The witness is myself. / And you, / The signs, the journeys of the night survive”
One way of witnessing for Rukeyser was to write: essays, reviews, biographies, plays, poems. Given her belief that nothing should be excluded from the auspices of the literary imagination, it is not surprising that she wrote on an extraordinary range of topics, many of which are extra-disciplinary to poetry.
Poetry, she maintained, can be a transfer of human energy, make changes in existing conditions, extend the document.  And I believe that the documents I have in my hands, if I join them through interpretive and relational paths, can “extend” her poems, “transfer” her passionate vision, make us understand why she rejected false divisions—between poetry and politics, for instance—and why she refused disciplinary splittings, such as the ones commonly accepted between literature and science. I feel that what I have in my hands are extraordinary “findings,” exceptional “cuttings.” I have carefully chosen these two terms to label Rukeyser’s papers because they recall the fact that, as a young woman, she worked occasionally as a film cutter, and that at the very end of her life, she said Findings would be the title of her next book.
Rukeyser’s papers are “cuttings,” “findings,” where aesthetic and poetic themes are explored; where political topics are debated; and where, surprisingly, the field of feminist discourse, sexual identity and gender roles is hardly tackled. The only item I found on the role of the “woman worker” is the carbon copy of a long essay entitled “Women and Scottsboro,”  which we can appreciate not only for its social, political, economic arguments, but also for “the generosity of meaning and the gifts of the imagination” :
If we grasp the articulated relation of Rukeyser’s “cuttings” and “findings,” we can reconstruct her connections with the political-literary movements of the period. We can evince how her leftist orientation did not mature through studying party doctrine, but through responding to public injustices; and we can understand why she encouraged the most important tendencies of modernism, while challenging them. One of the “cuttings” which is not dated, but that, by means of internal evidence, might be assigned to the period under scrutiny, is the one about Käthe Kollwitz’s life and art. It is a document that helps illustrate the links of our research—the relations between different cultures, between Europe and the United States—while giving a concrete example of a brave German woman sending “signs” across vast distances,  of a brave American woman ready to catch, to follow, to develop those “signs” :
These lines are personal notes that reveal how Rukeyser “listened” to Kollwitz’s thoughts and feelings, as they were expressed through her art.  They also confirm her understanding of the powerful relationships that exist between history, consciousness and creativity. They disclose a consistent ethics underlying all of her activism and poetry; her way of saying, through the signals of a German artist’s life and work, that the struggle, although it cannot be concluded or completed by one single person, should never be abandoned—a well known talmudic quotation that has become a typical Jewish principle. The dominant idea fixed on paper—the overall precise message in these notes that Rukeyser typed on Kollwitz—is for herself and it is quite clear: experience / believe / communicate / act.
5. “Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings. / The blessing is in the seed”
The experience that led Rukeyser to believe, to communicate, to act, had started early. In 1932 at the age of 18, she founded a little magazine, Housatonic; in the same year, she was arrested at the trial of the Scottsboro boys, in Decatur, Alabama; at 21 she published her first collection of poetry, Theory of Flight ; early in 1936 she visited Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, to gather information on an industrial disaster that left hundreds of miners dead and disabled from silicosis. Her contribution to that national drama was “The Book of the Dead,” a formally experimental long poem that integrates legal, medical and personal testimony with lyrical language, and in which, according to Kate Daniels, “she was perfectly capable of combining social-realist techniques with those of high modernism.”  Later in 1936, she was sent to Spain by Life and Letters To-day, to cover the Anti-Fascist Olympic Games (or the Workers’ Olympiad, set up in opposition to the official Olympics in Berlin); but she learned upon arrival that the games could not be held, since war had broken out in the province of Catalonia. The Catalan government decided to send all foreigners home, unless they had experience in nursing or child-care or were willing to fight. Rukeyser had only a first book of poems—she was asked to leave. Her memory from her days in Spain was published in London as “Barcelona, 1936.”  Here is the final stretch of the text, marking the intersection of the essay’s aesthetic, psychological and political concerns:
It was the moment when all foreigners were being asked to leave the embattled city. Rukeyser felt as though Martin, the organizer of the Games, spoke directly to her, giving her the task of witnessing.
Witnessing, a word heavy with spiritual and legal tones of obligation, is the vocation that Rukeyser accepts in Barcelona and that will impel her to repeat that “story” in different forms. Even in the opening scene of The Life of Poetry, she will recall that struggle against fascism, and will conclude the introduction to the book with this profession of faith: “Then I began to say what I believe.”  From that “moment of proof,”  she said what she believed. From that “moment of proof” she was at the center of an intense network of political, cultural, literary initiatives.
6. “Facing and communicating, that will be our life, in the world and in poetry”
Before analyzing the documents that will demonstrate this intense network, let us understand why Rukeyser was sent to Spain by Life and Letters To-day, and started contributing to that journal. While “exploring” Rukeyser’s papers I came across a few letters by Robert Herring  and a precious letter by Bryher dated 3 July 1936,  sent from Villa Kenwin, Vevey (Switzerland).  This epistle is probably not the only direct “link” between the two Jewish intellectuals, but it is the only one I found. It is certainly a fundamental “locality” combining several threads of our research:
The unconventional beginning of the letter seems to imply that Bryher, like Rukeyser, sees poetry as a realm of possibility, not a kind of artifact. She does not make an adequate critical discourse; nor does she express any precise appreciation of Rukeyser’s stylistic practices, sounds and rhythms patterns, deployment of modernist collage and rapid juxtapositions. But her statement, with the triple repetition of the verb “like,” signals the full acceptance of the American poet within the literary community, and implies an understanding of the potentialities of a writer that had just published her first book, the one starting with the emblematic line “Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry.”  This acceptance is reiterated in the handwritten post-scriptum: “If you are interested in politics, as I imagine from your book, you ought to go to Paris for July 14th. I could give you introductions there.”
Bryher does not use the expressions modern / modernist (or their “siblings,” as Susan Stanford Friedman would say), but simply “newer,” an evaluation marker that seems more projected into the future. The repetition “I hope we can meet” / “I hope so much that we, ourselves, can meet” is implicitly rich in promises: Bryher would introduce Rukeyser into her environment, her cultural setting, into her “life” and “letters.”
And she really did. Rukeyser was asked by Bryher and Herring to substitute a journalist who at the very last moment could not go to Spain, to cover the Anti-Fascist Olympic Games for Life and Letters To-day. The following letter, dated 15 July 1936, probably convinced Rukeyser to accept the “proposition”:
The sheet of headed paper where the epistle is typewritten presents, on the left hand side, the same logo of the journal, preceded by the line “EDITED BY ROBERT HERRING • PETRIE TOWNSHEND,” with a central dot between the two names. It was not the first official letter that Rukeyser received from Life and Letters To-day and Herring.  A quick message of his, just five days before, had announced something extraordinary that must have thrilled her:
After the “Iberian adventure”  and as soon as Rukeyser sent Herring her “piece” on the Spanish War—“Barcelona, 1936”—Herring expressed not only his admiration and gratitude, but showed he was concerned about her emotional response to that event (“you must be feeling a bit of a reaction”; “it must have done a few things”):
Between the two final words (“Best luck”) and his signature, Herring drew a fist—a very simple and naive sketch—with the same pen and ink he had used for the entire letter. Although undated, that short message was certainly written in August. It was followed by a long handwritten letter dated September 4 where, among other things, the idea of the fist was resumed, and where the new issue of Life and Letters To-day (Vol. 15, No. 5, 1936) was announced:
“Her story” was referred to in the editorial Robert Herring and Petrie Townshend wrote for that number of Life and Letters To-day :
The article itself was introduced by this editorial note on Rukeyser: “The author left London alone on July 18th. She was on the last train to enter Spain after the fighting began and arrived back in London on July 27th. This was her first visit to Europe.” Moreover, in the “Notes on Contributors” of that issue, she was presented as follows: “Muriel Rukeyser, who was born in 1913, is author of the well-received Theory of Flight, a first selection of verse published in the Yale Series of Younger Poets. We took occasion of her visiting England to enrol her as contributor and are happy to be introducing in December several of her newest poems to our readers.”
As a matter of fact, three of Rukeyser’s poems appeared in the Winter issue of Life and Letters To-day  as promised: two were those Robert Herring had already chosen, “Course” and “Burning Bush.” The third was “In Hades, Orpheus.” A politically committed poem—“Elegy”—was published in Vol. 21, No. 19, 1939.  It portrays the dangers of the “age of magicians,” the age of the German, Spanish, Italian dictatorships.  In this way, Rukeyser continued to be consistent with her personal anti-fascist choice and with the ideological attitude of the London journal.
7. “Women and poets see the truth arrive / Women and poets believe and resist forever”
The Spanish Civil War was a crucible for Rukeyser, and from that “moment of proof” she was at the center of an intense network of political-literary initiatives, as is evident from the letters of her correspondents. From the American Student Union of New York she received a letter dated 18 September 1936, saying:
From the League of American Writers, and more precisely from its executive secretary, Ellen Blake, she received the following message, dated 5 November 1936:
“Harried and overburdened,” Rukeyser would “rush a piece” to those who “desperately” wanted to know the truth about what was “happening to the people of Spain.” She would participate in the meeting, chaired by Sherwood Anderson, and give a speech as a witness of what she had seen at the outbreak of the Spanish War. In this way, she would confirm her belief in the need for social concern on the part of the writers, and in the existence of relations between different domains of knowledge as well as between different experiential realities.
8. “Through acts, through poems, / through our closeness— / whatever links us in our variousness”
Rukeyser did more within the context of her lifelong commitment to a poetry grounded in historical particularity. In the Berg Collection, I found a booklet—published in 1938 by the “Writers and Artists Committee, Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy” of New York—containing a version of “Mediterranean”  that is slightly different from the original one, printed in New Masses in 1937. The front cover presents one of the etchings entitled “Los Desastres de la Guerra” by Francisco Goya.  On the back cover, the following appeal for funds is printed under the meaningful title Today in Spain: “Eight American hospitals have been established by the Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy. One hundred and thirteen surgeons, nurses and ambulance drivers, with fifty two ambulances and tons of medical equipment are saving hundreds of lives daily. What you contribute today, will receive the heartfelt thanks of a heroic people.” 
Even in this new version, surely written on purpose to contribute to the appeal in favor of the heroic Spanish people, “Mediterranean” remains Rukeyser’s major poem about her experience in Spain, and is a concrete affirmation of her conception of poetic responsibility and poetry as witness. It is an answer to the question which is posed in the poem itself: “Where is the place for poetry?”
“Mediterranean” was much praised when it was issued. Horace Gregory previously described the poem “Your book on Spain,” in the letter he wrote Muriel immediately after reading her typescript:
Since Gregory plays a pivotal role in introducing Rukeyser to European intellectuals, his correspondence with her deserves some attention. There are passages in his letters in which he addresses her with such intimacy that the text is almost transformed into a conversation, an unconventional, insistent assertion of connection.  Gregory would tell her what to visit in London, and would ask her opinion about his latest poems. He would put her in touch with T. S. Eliot; he would speak about politics and the heat in New York. Worth quoting here is his letter  dated 3 July 1936, reminiscent of the letter written by Bryher on the same day (examined earlier):
It is curious how both Bryher and Gregory  wrote letters to Rukeyser, on the same day, commenting on some peculiar aspects of London, suggesting places to visit and which links to establish. Both of them hoped that Rukeyser would meet Dorothy Richardson—but from Richardson herself, writing to Bryher on August 1936, we learn: “we missed, by the way, Muriel Rukeyser, who, when we came back from Essex, had left town.”  In a letter dated November 1936, Richardson gave John Cowper Powys more details: “Horace Gregory introduced one Muriel Rukeyser, fresh from Vassar, poet, airwoman & the most vital woman in young America. We waited trembling, &, when this portent wrote, were away staying with friends. Before we returned, she had gone to Spain. So we never saw her.” 
Bryher and Gregory are linked to Rukeyser even in Richardson’s correspondence. And the American poet—“placed” or “displaced,” in New York, in London or in Barcelona—appears always at the crossroads of a rich cultural world. She becomes the intersection of a number of different relations, a center of exchanges, as we can realize from a short message H. D. sends her:
The letter is undated (on top of it we find only the abbreviation “Thurs.”), but is to be assigned to the weeks Rukeyser spent in London before leaving for Spain. It is handwritten on a very light blue sheet of paper—almost transparent, like her words. The same may be said of a letter written on a “Monday”, that starts with a formal “Dear Miss Rukeyser” (and not with the initials), and ends with a friendly “A bientôt”:
Epistolary connections, social links, ideal knots, elective affinities. In that Summer of 1936, different representatives of modernism were “net-working” in London.
9. “When this portent wrote….”
If one follows the threads connecting Rukeyser to her correspondents, and reads the letters kept at the Berg Collection, one after the other as a continuum, one has the impression of reading a hypertextual epistolary novel where nothing is fictitious. Real are the participants—the members of the literary community—as well as the ideas, the events, the artworks which they present, which they explore, for which they take risks. Real are “those men and women / Brave, setting up signals across vast distances.” Real and brave—engaged in politics, engaged in denouncing social crises, engaged in literary debates—they set up multifaceted signals, giving voice to “the unseen and unborn.”
In this epistolary novel, Rukeyser’s portrait emerges vividly. And not only her portrait, but the picture of an age. We do not have her letters and can only guess what her thoughts, feelings, concerns, joyful reactions were like. We can imagine how she answered and reacted to a praise or an attack, to the refusal of a sonnet, or to the request of series of poems for publication; how she responded to the “signs” that confirmed her achievements, as well as to the veiled or transparent “signs” that left only scars ; to the “signs” that testified to her being a “mediator” of culture.
Weaving this web of her correspondents’ words (from the most formal to the most confidential letters), we get a sense of the power of her personality, her charm, her humor, her generosity; and we understand how Rukeyser lived on paper, continually exploring and elaborating her key themes of connection and growth, since she believed in growth through connections.
One of the earliest steps in this direction was, I think, the founding of the little magazine Housatonic, on which new details are offered by two “buried” papers of the Berg Collection The first is a circular letter announcing the publication of Housatonic and promoting subscriptions to it:
This is a new magazine for and about New England.
Its purpose is to focus the cultural and economic trends in
The editors of Housatonic are asking subscriptions from all
who love the
Housatonic is published at Roxbury,
Connecticut, by four Vassar students,
The price is $1.50 for four issues
of Housatonic, published semi-monthly
The second “buried” paper is the copy of an ad for New Masses which is accompanied by a letter dated 15 July 1932, signed by its business manager, Frances Strauss, that reads as follows: “Dear Muriel, here is a copy for our ad to appear in your honorable journal. I’m anxious to have a look at your first issue. Thanks for giving us a break in New England.” Rukeyser’s “honorable journal” was, obviously, Housatonic.
The ad presented the following persuasive opening:
Contributors: Theodore Dreiser,
Sherwood Anderson, John Dos Passos, Michael
I want to draw attention to two meaningful aspects of Rukeyser’s connections and growth through connections. In offering to advertise New Masses, she meant to establish a significant link and make a precise choice in the literary-political field. In launching her little magazine in the form we have seen above, she showed the wide range of topics that would be covered by a journal published by four women, who would join political, social, artistic discourses in the same “housatonic” “locality.”
We do not know what Rukeyser meant to imply by coining that semantically complex name/adjective as the title of her magazine. I wonder whether she intended to convey several connected ideas, even contradictory, within the same term. Was it a homemade journal? Was the verb atone doing something there? and the adjective atonic, with its double meaning? Was that title just a modernist quirk, where the two terms “house” and “tonic” were yoked by “&”? Was Rukeyser starting to draw interdisciplinary metaphors—as she would be doing in her poetry—from the physics of Willard Gibbs, from the explorations of Elizabethan navigator and naturalist Thomas Hariot, from Native American rituals?
As an open window watching on the culture of modernity beyond boundaries of disciplines, genres and genders, that magazine gave rise to several expectations. New Masses defined it an “honorable journal,” and John Wheelwright, clearly seeing in Housatonic a promising “signal” and a “meeting place,” expressed his approval, by writing a letter dated August 18, 1932:
Rukeyser really believed in what she was doing, as far as Housatonic is concerned. She wrote Pound a letter  in which, aged only eighteen, she was able to communicate quite a lot about herself and about her addressee, both implicitly and explicitly:
In a peculiar mixture of arrogant and deferential tones, Rukeyser showed she was aware of the multiple aspects of modernism, she was conscious that she could be a networking “link,” while her little magazine could be a networking “place” / “locality” where Pound and other “subjects” could meet.
10. “For our time depends not on single points of knowledge but on clusters and combinations”
While writing this essay I have often felt tempted to give a graphic image of Rukeyser’s personal connections and immaterial relations. If only I could draw, I would copy (and magnify) Le Miroir Vivant that Magritte painted in 1928 (and that I have recently seen in Rome), in order to make the reader enjoy the colorful and significant clusters of relations that come out through the cross-lacing of the shattered fragments that belonged to Muriel Rukeyser. I would substitute the terms that Magritte uses in his oil on canvas, and I would first “enter” Housatonic in one of his jagged white/yellow clouds, New Masses in another, and then Poetry, and modern/modernism, and leftist, and revolutionary, and Bryher, and the Spanish War, and Elizabeth Bishop, and Horace Gregory, and Marya Zaturenska, and American Prefaces, and H. D., Robert Herring, Ezra Pound, Klaus Mann, William C. Williams. I would place fascism and nazism together in one of his black clouds. Then, I would insert all sorts of keywords (immaterial relationships) of my research, and more names (personal connections)—chosen among those of Rukeyser’s correspondents—into the clouds, in order to show their dynamic interaction.
Going on with our epistolary novel—for which we can now use my “copy” of Le Miroir Vivant, as an ideal cover —I will quote stretches of letters signed by different senders, that seem quite meaningful for what they reveal about the literary debate that took place in these “localities” and about Rukeyser being both the object and the subject of that debate.
We know that no discourse is neutral, in the sense that, on the emotional gradient, it expresses different degrees of vicinity or distance towards the addressee and towards the object of discourse. Some of Rukeyser’s correspondents, like Horace Gregory, Theodore C. Wilson and Louis Untermeyer—who had a permanent dialogue and exchange with her—would manifest their “vicinity” towards their addressee under different forms. In a letter dated 24 April 1936, Untermeyer, resorting to irony and to metaphoric images, lent his discourse semantically and visually rich resources, in order to convey the importance of their connection and the pleasure of spending some time together in the near future:
Untermeyer’s messages always reproduce the rhythms of spoken discourse, and his speech seems to be interrupted and resumed continuously, sometimes with the help of questions that do not expect any answer, but only mean to prolong or extend the pleasure of being together, on paper.
Some of the letters that Rukeyser received from Horace Gregory were rich in descriptions and evaluations of episodes concerning the political-literary debate of the time, as the one he wrote from Ireland in 1934,  which concludes with a note of sincere admiration toward his addressee :
Ted Wilson, after opening his letter dated 25 October 1935 with “I was very glad to hear from you that we may use your poem in the December issue,” and after speaking of his own poetry, would entertain Rukeyser by making fun of some “characters” of the time, while revealing his political opinion and consequent “detachment” from Ezra Pound:
A Journal of Critical and Imaginative Writing
In the literary debate taking place in our epistolary novel, Rukeyser happens to be both the object and the subject of that debate. The two letters Babette Deutsch writes while preparing her book, entitled This Modern Poetry, illustrate my point. The first, dated 20 June 1935, recites:
In the second letter, dated 9 July 1935, Deutsch states: “The ms. [of your poems] came to me so late that I do not know whether I shall be able to include anything in my text, and may be reduced to a mere mention of your work without quotation. But if I can quote, will you be so good enough to give me your permission to do so?” 
Some of these letters—besides being a source of historical insight into modernist culture, and besides giving a truthful portrait of Rukeyser’s strength, wit, honesty, courage, talent—help discover some clues of her poems, and help define their meanings. Moreover, they let us understand how events initially external to the writer’s personal life became absorbed and then expressed by her reportage and/or by her poetic dialectic; as in the case of the “event” of Gauley Bridge that “became” a poem. When “The Book of the Dead” was issued, Ted Wilson, clearly admiring the continuity that existed between Rukeyser’s artistic creativity and her social commitment, disclosed his opinion in a long letter, dated 22 March 1938, of which I quote only a fragment:
The poem was “really an achievement” because it “extended the document.”  As a contemporary critic has recently made clear, Rukeyser responded to the Gauley Bridge tragedy “with a fierce assertion of modernization’s potential both to empower workers and to inspire a specifically modernist poetry.”  “The Book of the Dead” revealed that she “imagined modernist poetry as a productive dynamic force capable of forging connections, connections that could rescue the casualties of Gauley Bridge from oblivion and charge the event with meaning.” 
After all, some years later, in The Life of Poetry,  she would theorize that the defining feature of modernism across disciplines is an emphasis on relationship, and in the course of an interview, she would make clear how she wished “to live in relationships that are all moving but that have their own stability, a kind of musical stability, a spiritual stability.” 
 See Gigliola Sacerdoti Mariani,
“Barcelona, 1936—A ‘moment of proof’ for Muriel Rukeyser,” in Angela Vistarchi,
editor, The City as Text. Atti del X Convegno dell’Associazione Italiana
di Studi Nord-Americani, Sassari, Chiarella, 1990, pp.387-96; “Muriel
Rukeyser, ‘held among wars,’” in Mario Corona e Giuseppe Lombardo, editors,
Methodologies of Gender. Atti dell’XI Convegno dell’Associazione Italiana
di Studi Nord-Americani, Roma, Herder, 1993, pp.505-13; “Muriel Rukeyser,
‘dalle trincee della poesia,’” in Gigliola Sacerdoti Mariani, Arturo Colombo
and Antonio Pasinato,editors, La guerra civile spagnola tra politica
e letteratura, Firenze, Shakespeare & Company, 1995, pp.51-62;
“Muriel Rukeyser e Käthe Kollwitz: un confronto di segni,” in Liana Borghi
and Rita Svandrlik, editors, S/oggetti immaginari, Urbino, QuattroVenti,
1996, pp.165-79; “Muriel Rukeyser e la lezione spagnola del 1936,” Nuova
Antologia, 2197, 1996, pp.300-310.
BIO: Gigliola Sacerdoti Mariani is full professor of English at the University of Florence, Faculty of Political Science. She has published books and essays on the language of Spenser’s Shepheardes Calendar, on the English orthography of the sixteenth century, on the English lexicography of the seventeenth century, as well as on English and American literature. Her articles on G. Eliot, B. Disraeli, D. Abse, S. Bellow, B. Malamud, l. B. Singer, H. Miller, M. Rukeyser, A. Ostriker have appeared in a variety of journals. Recent books of which she is the author or editor include Guida alla Costituzione degli Stati Uniti d’America (1985; 1999, 4th edition), La guerra civile spagnola tra politica e letteratura (1995) and Il Federalista (1997). Her most recent essays are the following: “Personal diagnosis and social diagnosis ‘attorno a questo corpo dalle mille paludi’” (Textus, XIII, 1, 2000), “The ethics of organ donation: texts and contexts of the ‘transplant community’”(Textus, XIV, 2, 2001), “Ri-scritture e re-visioni bibliche di Alicia Ostriker” (in O. De Zordo, F. Fantaccini, editors, Le riscritture del postmoderno. Percorsi angloamericani, 2002).