Teaching Poets of Color

Hallelujah! I had lost my Fall 2010 Philippine Studies course at USF, and have gained a Fall 2010 Poets of Color course at Mills College. This course was supposed to be taught by someone else, but this person became unavailable, and now I’m the pinch hitter. The semester starts at the end of this month. I have no syllabus. But the major challenge at this point is the fact that course textbooks have already been ordered, so I have to work with those, but as they are all anthologies, I have a bit of “wiggle room.” My only serious criticism is the previous professor’s choice for an Asian American poetry anthology. I would have chosen a different one, a more diverse and inclusive one, specifically Walter Lew’s Premonitions, which is as aesthetically and formalistically diverse as it is ethnically, generationally, and geographically.

But I am excited, as this course is an American Poets of Color in the 20th and 21st Century course, and the already ordered anthologies will challenge me to look at work I otherwise might not have considered or known existed. For example, Effigies: An Anthology of New Indigenous Writing, Pacific Rim edited by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, and featuring dg nanouk okpik, Cathy Tagnak Rexford, Brandy Nalani McDougall & Mahealani Perez-Wendt (Salt Publishing 2009).

Some things I am thinking about are “Movements.” I am still unclear on how they form, and how they are named. I am pretty sure that like-minded artists gravitate toward one another. Being like-minded can be based on politics and aesthetics; as with Effigies, ethnicity is a portion of these artists coming together, but having been published by Tinfish Press, I get Pacific Rim poetries as geographical, historical, and political, which I am actually more interested in than in straight discussions of ethnic identity (which might seem weird for me to say given my interest in promoting Filipino American poetry. In my defense, I will say that I am interested in politicized Filipino American poetries and how these enable the enlarging of community outside of Filipino-ness).

I am also thinking of lineages. The line from Langston Hughes to Willie Perdomo isn’t solely due to blackness and maleness, is it? I am also thinking of such movements as Floricanto, and whether this particular Xicano/Latino poetry movement did or did not include Jimmy Santiago Baca, did it? I think of him as coming from a different lineage. Does this different lineage affect whether Xicano/Latino poetry currently includes him?

And finally, what about Asian American poetry? Iris Law recently blogged over at Lantern Review about the short lives of Asian American publications, as she discussed David Mura’s contribution to the new Asian American Literary Review. I agree with Mura regarding lack of financial and administrative know-how, but what I also want to say (regarding his second point) is that Asian American is indeed huge, and it is so diverse (see above, re: Premonitions), that attempting to embrace pan-Asianness forces us to distill it down to a manageable body, and hence, so much is lost.

So now I am just a bundle of unanswered questions. I also think this is a good place to be as an educator.

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Barbara Jane Reyes

Author of Gravities of Center, Poeta en San Francisco, and Diwata. Adjunct professor in Philippine Studies at University of San Francisco.

2 Comments

  1. Aloha e, Barbara. We haven’t met, but I’ve been following your blog for a while! Glad to hear about this course, specifically that you’re including “Effigies: An Anthology of New Indigenous Writing, Pacific Rim” in the course. Also, any chance you might share your list of required readings?

    I also think the questions you’re asking yourself are good ones to ask you’re students.

  2. Hi David, thanks for your comment. Indeed, I do hope students will also think about lineage and community, and also historical context, right? Yes I’d be happy to post readings, etc. here. As well, I am really looking forward to reading Effigies. Its format is also giving me some ideas as an editor…..

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