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Left of PoetryDepression America and the Formation of Modern Poetics$
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Sarah Ehlers

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781469651286

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469651286.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.northcarolina.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of North Carolina Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NCSO for personal use.date: 23 May 2022

Fusing an Alloy

Fusing an Alloy

Muriel Rukeyser at the Limits of Poetry/ Documentary

(p.65) Chapter Two Fusing an Alloy
Left of Poetry

Sarah Ehlers

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter charts the formation of the documentary poetry tradition in the U.S. through a consideration of Muriel Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead. It demonstrates how Rukeyser pushed the boundaries of genre and media to imagine modes of expression that resisted traditional notions of liberal subjectivity. Drawing on multiple valences of the term alloy, the chapter argues that Rukeyser imagined documentary writing as a complex fusing of elements that speculates on the ontology of the poem itself. The chapter begins with an account of the historical, definitional, and theoretical concerns that have shaped documentary poetry. The chapter’s subsequent analyses of The Book of the Dead consider the impact of industry on subject formation: demonstrating how Rukeyser experimented with literary and visual genres, as well as poetic tropes and themes, to devise alternate modalities of personhood that interface the human with the materials of history and industry. The chapter concludes by showing how Rukeyser’s plans to adapt The Book of the Dead into a documentary film demonstrate a combination of formal and technical resources that illuminate new principles of composition.

Keywords:   Muriel Rukeyser, The Book of the Dead, political poetry, documentary poetry, documentary film

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