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“Letter to the Front” by Muriel Rukeyser

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. Amanda Holmes joined our sister podcast Smarty Pants recently 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 our sister podcast, Smarty Pants
  • 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”


Have a suggestion for a poem by a (dead) writer? Email us: podcast@theamericanscholar.org. If we select your entry, you’ll win a copy of a poetry collection edited by David Lehman.


This episode was produced by Stephanie Bastek and features the song “Canvasback” by Chad Crouch.