Some things I’ve been thinking lately.
I finished Suheir Hammad’s breaking poems a while back, and while I was reading her ruptured texts, ruptured and sutured by English Arabic Hip-Hop code switching, I kept flashing back to my own work with all of those broken syntaxes in Poeta. I was afraid this was a matter of my ego’s need to constantly be self-referential, hence, my need to remain relevant, so I thought about it again, Hammad’s barrages of word word word word with all of the “connective tissue” dissolved, word word word spilling onto the next line as if the only thing stopping the barrage is the page. And if her poems lived outside of, transcendent of the page, then nothing but the poet’s own breath could stop the barrage. If I may be so bold as to say that something I think I have in common with Hammad is the poetic speaker who is a young brown woman, a young brown multilingual, transnational woman fighting to (re)define self, to survive both bodily and spiritually, in a continuum of war against women’s bodies and against homelands, against the disenfranchised denizens of city.
This brings me to this recent and ongoing wave of renewed American nationalism post-Barack Obama presidential win. I do love that our fellow Americans are proud to be American once again. Through a literary and poetic lens, we can view such nation-building, both praising and critical, and straight up acerbic nation self-defining texts by Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes (“Let America Be America Again,” “I, Too, Sing America”), Claude McKay (“White City,” “White House,” “America”), and José Martí’s “Nuestra America,”/”Our America,” Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart, and “I Want the Wide American Earth.” There is Joseph Lease’s Broken World, and K. Silem Mohammad’s Deer Head Nation. I can even count Lee A. Tonouchi’s Living Pidgin among these nation-building American writers, for his insistence on Pidgin being a viable American culture, language, way of life (I wonder if Tonouchi would count Braddah Barack among Pidgin speakers; Tonouchi counts Senator Dan Inouye and former Hawai’i governor Ben Cayetano among them). These are only a few examples of national identity being forwarded in American literature. I am especially interested in men of color writing an America that includes them.
My point here is that as I’ve recently read both Suheir Hammad, and then Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals (my write-up here), the more convinced I am that American women authors, and particularly American women of color authors who have not consented to being hemmed in uncritically by their domesticity such that national identity is not their province or only in supporting roles to primarily male nation builders, are still too busy defending our bodies from nation builders, still fighting for our bodies’ humanity against objectification, that we are not tackling nation building in our own work. Sarah Jones’ “Your Revolution,” anyone?
In addition to Hammad, Lorde, and Jones, when thinking of resistance to bodily objectification through literary production, think also of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera, in her mestizaje consciousness, likening the US/Mexico border to una herida abierta, a wounded body unable to heal, and calling the reader in to see the complexities of the border cultures. Anzaldúa I’d always read as a response to the white masculinism of frontier culture. Think also of Harryette Mullen’s S*PeRM**K*T and Trimmings, the many ways in which a woman’s body is packaged and marketed for Western consumption. Think of Evie Shockley’s a half red sea, which I think I can safely say Shockley wrote in order to give voice, substance, and humanity to her woman ancestors and forebears after generations of violently imposed American institutional silences.
So then there is Cathy Park Hong’s Dance Dance Revolution, and there is Bruna Mori’s Dérive, both of which are well worth revisiting for me, as I am very interested in these two women poets who are API, of my generation, with whom I feel much poetic kinship. I am interested in their appearing to focus elsewhere not the body, and into the bigger world of city and nationality. Even here, the concerns of the poetic speakers are complicated, and involve many layers of interaction with the dominant culture, if not altogether decentering it.
Another thing the above mentioned works have in common I think is telescoping.
Here, perhaps Allen Ginsberg’s Howl is another text I ought to revisit. Again, another male author, but still, I am interested in women of color authors whose works are large in scope, whose works take on nation in critical and confrontational ways. I realized in my search for nationalist poetry in this time of great national pride, I want to write my own large in scope work on America and Americanism. And I want to have American women of color poet role models here.