I’m pleased with how the level of poetic engagement has been increasing in depth and breadth this semester. I think the challenge is how to engage students who are at different places experientially and academically with (1) reading and discussing poetry, (2) discussing cultural, linguistic, social, political, and historical issues for people of color in/with the USA, (3) synthesizing these two into (relatively) seamless and coherent, relevant discussion. And really, even within #2, there’s a wide spectrum of critical engagement and knowledge. Still, my students are doing a very good job with the juggling.
If last week’s discussion of Arab American poetries really upped the stakes on poetic projects of/by poets of color, then this (and next) week, in reading Native American and Pacific Islander poets, and with Craig Santos Perez‘s very much appreciated class visit yesterday evening, we’ve had to add yet another layer of complexity, thinking about “native” or “indigenous” ways of writing, based upon orality, its structures, the intense and intimate relationship with the land/natural world, mythologies, genealogies as communicated in subject/theme-specific tones and narrative structures. Even our ongoing conversations about hybridity (of language, race/ethnicity, traditional and avant-garde poetic form, genre and media) seem to take on an additional layer of intensity and significance here when considering the heavy militarization of the islands, the tourism industry, colonial histories, the ubiquitous neo-colonialism and insidious Christian Mission Work which have systematically erased the natives’ knowledge of and access to their own languages and work/traditional economies, hence social structures, hence, a people’s individual and collective psyches.
Whew! It’s taken me about two weeks to create a syllabus for my Poets of Color course at Mills College. Classes start this week, and as some of you may know, I very suddenly found myself being offered this Fall semester teaching position. So it’s been a scramble.
I’ve been thinking about not just poetry by writers of color, but poetics essays, and essays about writing life as well. Two that will join Carlos Bulosan’s “The Writer as Worker,” to kick off the semester:
- Langston Hughes, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (1926). What strikes me about this essay is its relevance in 2010. I don’t know that a classroom full of emerging poets needs to be immersed so much in “po-biz,” but I believe writers of color experience this on a consistent basis — can we ever be regarded and read simply as writers, or will ethnic identifiers always take precedence. And if ethnicity will always take precedence, then how is it handled, by editors, by fellow writers, by educators teaching the work of writers of color?
- Meta DuEwa Jones, “Descent and Transcendence in African American Poetry: Identity, Experience, Form” (2009). I feel like this essay is an elaboration of Hughes’s essay; Hughes envisioned generations of African American writers into the next century, and in Jones’s essay, we see similar issues still being discussed among these generations subsequent to Hughes.
Later on in the semester, we’ll read Hayan Charara’s “Animals: On the Role of the Poet in a Country at War.” I haven’t yet read it in its entirety, but am glad to have found it. I hope it’s clear that I do want to talk about political poets and political poetry, about social responsibility, about the reach and effect of a poem upon an individual and upon a populace.
OK. I am still scanning and uploading PDF’s, and I’ve found some good multimedia. So as much as done can be done, the syllabus is done. My first class is this Wednesday evening. What a rush.
Addendum: Um. How could I forget to mention that we will also be reading Audre Lorde’s “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” from her collection of essays, Sister Outsider. Also, an excerpt of Allison Hedge Coke’s Seeds. Saul Williams’s “The Future of Language,” from DJ Spooky’s anthology, Sound Unbound. Finally, Thomas Sayers Ellis’s “The New Perform-A-Form.”