It’s no big secret, that I am gaga over Eduardo Galeano. Since being introduced to his work some years ago, something has opened and has continued to open in me. The things he does in his work, those are the things I need in the world, in my writing and reading life — I have just found this: Galeano, “Why I Write,” posted a few days ago at The Progressive. It’s a brief thing, but it is certainly not lean, and it is more than enough; there’s no reason to be verbose in explaining oneself as an author. You let the work explain yourself:
* I tried and I go on trying, to say more with less, looking for words better than the wisest silence, naked words free of rhetorical clothes. Writing has been, and still is, quite difficult but frequently it gives me deep feelings and high pleasure, far away from solitude and oblivion.
You let language do its thing, you let words work cut, penetrate, linger, redirect/reorient, transform.
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.”
I have to say, as I’ve been reading and thinking about Miguel Syjuco’s Ilustrado, which is very writerly and Filipino community focused, I’ve been thinking about my own writing and its reception by the community. I’d previously written about the inside/collective self-referential moments in Ilustrado, in which the elder Manila authors criticize the deceased Crispin Salvador for what sounds like pandering to a larger audience beyond his own countrymen (ehem, countrywomen, see below):
Rita: “Autoplagiarist’s problem was it was more about Filipinos than for Filipinos.”
Furio: “It’s the sort of book Americans love and Filipinos hate. We have to write for our countrymen.”
Me: “Then why couldn’t he get it published abroad?”
Furio: “The same reason the rest of us Filipinos have hard time.”
As a recent purchaser of the entire Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I – IV, via Amazon.com MP3 downloads, and for a mere $5, this is something I am constantly thinking about: that there are benefits to bypassing or overturning the traditional existing systems by which product gets to our audience (or constituents, or consumers). I am trying to keep up with industry news on NIN and Radiohead, and there are a whole slew of articles I haven’t gotten to read yet. Here’s an article in Wired, a dialogue between David Byrne and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, “on the real value of music.”
If I may link these music industry developments to the literary industry, can we realistically model ourselves after them, and are we willing to take the risks of taking production into our own hands? Trent Reznor recently expressed his disappointment about downloaders of the Saul Williams album The Rise and Inevitable Liberation of NiggyTardust! which Reznor produced:
Reznor had masterminded the Radiohead-esque plan of letting listeners choose between getting Williams’ album for free or contributing $5 for a higher-quality download. The overwhelming majority of the 150,000 downloaders had chosen the former option, which caused Reznor to glumly remark to CNET News in January that the idea “was wrong in my head, and for once I’ve given people too much credit.” [Full SF Weekly article here.]