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"Widen the Lens and See": Poetry, Photography, and the Act of Witness in Muriel Rukeyser's "The Book of the Dead"

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title
"Widen the Lens and See": Poetry, Photography, and the Act of Witness in Muriel Rukeyser's "The Book of the Dead"
author
Marlow, Erin Kathleen
abstract
Poet, journalist, activist, and photographer Muriel Rukeyser remains an important figure of twentieth century poetry. Her docupoetic work, “The Book of the Dead,” exposes the personal, emotional sides of the 1930s Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster while artfully combining excerpted language from victims’ personal testimony letters, medical and legal jargon, and Rukeyser’s own poetic voice. The disaster itself is rarely discussed among scholarly sources, but even more scarce is an attention to the ways in which Rukeyser situates the camera and the act of looking in “The Book of the Dead” as integral parts of her poetic expression of the tragedy in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. This article examines Rukeyser’s complex evocation of the camera as an illusionary tool of witness by discussing select poems in light of documentary photography of the 1930s and Rukeyser’s own photography career. In bringing together details in Rukeyser’s poetry and ideas surrounding photography and the act of witness during the Great Depression, the article reveals the ways in which “The Book of the Dead” uses poetic language to expose the injustices of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel disaster in a way not possible of the camera or the source documents themselves.
subject
"The Book of the Dead"
Documentary Poetry
Docupoetics
Muriel Rukeyser
Photography
Poetry
contributor
Alford, Lucy (advisor)
Russell, Alisa (committee member)
Whitehead, Elisabeth (committee member)
date
2023-07-25T17:48:30Z (accessioned)
2023-07-25T17:48:30Z (available)
2023 (issued)
degree
English (discipline)
identifier
http://hdl.handle.net/10339/102230 (uri)
language
en (iso)
publisher
Wake Forest University
type
Thesis

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