20 poets, 10 poems, 25 years of National Poetry Month

Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars)

Muriel Rukeyser
Muriel Rukeyser
Muriel Rukeyser (1913–1980) was born in New York City. She attended Vassar College and then Columbia University. Her first collection, Theory of Flight, won the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1935. Her subsequent books of poetry would be inspired by the injustice she witnessed in the US and abroad, including the Scottsboro trial in Alabama and the civil war in Spain. Rukeyser felt a deep responsibility to comment on human rights issues and her poems became, in part, a platform for social protest.
Deborah Paredez
Selected and Read By
Deborah Paredez
Deborah Paredez is the author of the poetry volumes This Side of Skin (Wings Press, 2002) and Year of the Dog (BOA, 2020) and of the critical study Selenidad: Selena, Latinos, and the Performance of Memory (Duke University Press, 2019). She is the cofounder and for a decade served as co-director of CantoMundo, a national organization for Latinx poets. She lives in New York City where she teaches creative writing and ethnic studies at Columbia University. She is currently completing a book about divas and their impact on her life and on American culture over the past 50 years.

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.

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