Identity Poetics

English 685:001 ~ Fall 2001 ~ Susan Tichy ~ Monday 7:20-10:00 ~ Robinson A447
A survey course with emphasis on contemporary poetry expressing national, ethnic, racial, and gender identity in innovative forms
Schedule - Reading - Grading/Policies - Susan Tichy's Main Page

"As a concept, identity can be defined as the search for self and its relationship
to social contexts and realities."  --Sandra Carlton Alexander
The Oxford Companion to African American Literature

"Who I am is a political question, but who I can be is a question that literature 
can help me to answer." -- Harryette Mullen

Our readings will model two approaches: reading in the poetry of a single group over time, and reading in a single time period and genre across several groups. Using a combination of anthologies and individual volumes we will sample the work of African-American, Asian-American, Anglophone-Caribbean, Nuyorican, and Scottish poets. 

“Identity poetics” as concept and practice is the product of several distinct
movements and moments in the history of poetry. In each of these moments, poets of a
particular social, political or racial identity fashioned a subject position apart from the
mainstream, composed of both aesthetic and socio-political affinities. Writers as
temporally and culturally distant as eighteenth-century Scots-language poets and
20th-century American poets of the Black Arts Movement have shared these qualities and
provided models for others who sought a coherent expression of poetic difference. 

Most familiar American identity poetry of the last thirty years is based on belief in
an ontologically authentic self and in natural, unmediated expression. Voice is often taken
as synonymous with self, while authenticity is judged by the poem’s ability to represent
personal and cultural experience at the level of narrative content. Our readings will
include some poets in this mode, but our emphasis will be on poets who continue the
longer tradition of poets on social peripheries questioning the very ideas of “natural
expression” and “authentic experience” in a language and literary tradition as varied,
conflicted, and contested as the one we call “English poetry.” From Amiri Baraka and Nathaniel Mackey emphasizing verb over noun, process over stasis, to Scottish poet W.N. Herbert claiming that to write in either pure English or pure Scots is, for him, a lie, to Harryette Mullen’s “mongrel lyric” crossing African-American oral traditions with the print cultures of
experimental poetry and modern theory, our poets both give more and ask more than a
popular affirmation of diversity at the level of content. Their relations with poetic
tradition, with identity politics, and with each other are complex and often surprising.

Additional poets featured include: Kamau Brathwaite, C.S. Giscombe, Tom
Leonard, David Kinloch, W.N. Herbert, Edwin Torres, Myung Mi Kim, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Reading includes poems in Scots, in the Caribbean vernacular or “nation language,”
poems based on jazz forms and on hip-hop performance modes, visual poems, and
multi-genre collage.

Requirements: lots of reading, 2 short papers, 2 take-home essay exams, active
participation in discussions, attendance at one or more poetry readings, & a few trips to
the Johnson Center Reserve Desk to listen to our poets on tape and CD. 


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