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R is For Muriel Rukeyser: To Reach Beyond Ourselves

The Universe is Made of Stories

In college, I took a class on the history of the American Labor movement in the first part of the 20th Century, and learned of tragedies like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, where women workers died because the fire doors were chained shut by the company to prevent theft.  Being a poet, I came upon the idea of writing a paper about poetry of the labor movement, and this introduced me one of my favorite poets, Muriel Rukeyser.  She wrote a powerful poem series, The Book of the Dead(1938), about the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster in West Virginia, where Union Carbide had mostly African American workers tunnel through pure silica without any masks, and many died from silicosis of the lungs. She writes about a black man in George Robinson: Blues, who testified at the hearings about the tunnel:

As dark as I am, when I came out at morning after the tunnel at night,
with a white man, nobody could have told which man was white.
The dust had covered us both, and the dust was white.

In Absalom, she writes of a mother looking for the cause of her sons’ deaths:

The oldest son was twenty-three.
The next son was twenty-one.
The youngest son was eighteen.
They called it pneumonia at first.
They would pronounce it fever.
Shirley asked that we try to find out.
That’s how they learned what the trouble was.


       I open out a way, they have covered my sky with crystal
       I come forth by day, I am born a second time,
       I force a way through, and I know the gate
       I shall journey over the earth among the living.


       He shall not be diminished, never;
       I shall give a mouth to my son.
Poem” from 1968, describes living in the first century of World Wars, of news pouring out of various
devices, of the despair, but also hope, and sounds very much like it could be from today:


By Muriel Rukeyser 1913–1980
I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.


I lived in the first century of these wars.



P is for Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, PA





The new 2011 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, Amy Small-McKinney, will be reading at the MCPL Awards ceremony at the Ambler Theater, April 20th, 2011, along with judge Christopher Bursk.  Stratoz and I are pleased to be participating in the festivities with a display of mosaics and stained glass inspired or described by poetry.  Before I found my passion making mosaics, I was writing poetry, and was selected by Robert Pinsky to be the 2000 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County.  Joanne Leva, creator and director of the MCPL program, has become a dear friend, and she has been with me every step of the way during my evolution from poet to mosaic artist.  It should not have surprised me that Joanne’s undergraduate degree was in graphic design and sculpture!  Creativity crosses boundaries of genres of the arts, from writing, to visual art, to music, dance and beyond.  Here is a poem with vivid imagery, Clear Moon, Frost, from Amy Small-McKinney:


Clear Moon, Frost

How I have used
the vowel’s scalpel

How I heard scraping on the sill
and swore it was fear

How you tried to tell me
of forgiveness

How I have come to love the leaf
at my window The mouth that disappears

–Amy Small-McKinney


I is for Iridized Glass

yellow sunflower mandala: a glass mosaic by Margaret Almon
yellow sunflower mandala: a glass mosaic by Margaret Almon


I is for iridized glass, and its shimmering rainbow effect.  A thin metallic layer is bonded to the glass when a metallic salt solution is applied and then heated.  Dichroic glass, which means “two color” is sometimes confused with iridized glass, but it is a coating that allows the glass to toggle back and forth between only 2 colors. The pale yellow glass, second row from the outer edge in this mandala, is iridized, and you can see the subtle purplish sheen of the rainbow coloration.  Tiffany patented a version of iridescent glass called “Favrile” which was applied to his blown glass artworks. Here is an excerpt from Mark Doty’s apt poem, titled Favrile:

at century’s end,
compounded metallic lusters


in reference
to natural sheens (dragonfly
and beetle wings,


marbled light on kerosene)
and invented names
as coolly lustrous


as their products’
scarab-gleam: Quetzal,
Aurene, Favrile.


respectively, the glaze
of feathers,


that sun-shot fog
of which halos
are composed. . .


H is For H.D.: Poet Hilda Doolittle

[Scrapbook containing photographs of H. D., Kenneth Mapherson, Bryher, and others with various clippings, Classical architecture, sculpture, etc.]
Scrapbook containing photographs of H. D., Kenneth Mapherson, Bryher, and others with various clippings, Classical architecture, sculpture, etc.
H is H.D., as the poet Hilda Doolittle(1886-1961) chose to be called.  When I discovered her poems, with their striking imagery, I also felt a kinship with her because of her Moravian heritage, born in Bethlehem, PA.  I grew up in the Moravian church, and as I began writing poetry in my teens and twenties, it seemed quite fortuitous to find H.D.  She was often described by critics as “imagist” and although she didn’t like that label, her poems do have a vivid sense of imagery.  Here is one of my favorites:
“Heat” by H. D.

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air–
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat–
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.



A Star Come to Earth:  The Moravian Star at Christmas<

Embrace: The Glass Sculpture of Christopher Ries

Embrace glass sculpture by Christopher Ries.
Embrace glass sculpture by Christopher Ries. Photo by Wayne Stratz(2009).

Stratoz and I went to Guiding Light,  the Ries exhibit at Misericordia University, and were awed by the collection of work. Stratoz took many photos, in hopes of capturing something of the essence of these sculptures.  This is a three dimensional experience. Each piece offered up a multiplicity of reflections and angles as I circled around each one, and created a meditative state of discovery and delight.  As the gallery director, Brian J. Benedetti writes in the program, “Christopher Ries is fundamentally a sculptor of light.” Embrace is imbued with vibrant orange, but thrown magically from the base of the piece, to inhabit the clear crystal tip.

Christopher Ries Peace Sculpture.
Margaret Almon with Christopher Ries Peace Sculpture. Photo by Wayne Stratz(2009).

Here I am next to Peace, a glowing whale’s tail on the waves, or as it now occurs to me, a white dove, in glass tourist glory.   Tourists have their photos taken by monuments, often memorializing the war dead, so it is a relief to find a monument to peace instead. I will close with an excerpt from a poem called Sea of Glass, which  I wrote about the first time I saw Ries’ work, in 1996.

“Ries presses his chest into the machine

he has made, polishing the opaque glass,

not knowing the inside

until it is finished.

The glass sculpted like praying, leaning on the heart

to change its inner shape.”

–Margaret Almon

Related Posts:

My First Poetry Reading in a Long Time

Christopher Ries and a Sea of Glass

My first poetry reading in a long time at Churchill’s in Pottstown

Seaform Pavilion
Seaform Pavilion by Dale Chihuly via VoodooZebra on Flickr.

I will be getting the poems out and giving a reading.
Here’s an excerpt of a poem I wrote about glass, which I mentioned in my post about Christopher Ries.

As you can see, glass has been on my mind for awhile!

Sea of Glass

an excerpt on Dale Chihuly’s Seaforms:

“They are like chiffon woven with ribbon,
they still look warm, as if the blower’s breath
gave the heat rather than the fire.
Some have lip wraps, an edge of color
named a lip.  These forms are open,
lips are the boundary;
a mouth that can say anything.”

Come out and hear the rest!

Mad Poets Society presents a series of the previous Poet Laureates of Montgomery County, 2nd Saturdays at 7:00, at Churchill’s in Pottstown. I was Poet Laureate in 2000, and I’ll be reading with Sorina Higgins.