Critics have dissected the eccentric forms of avant-garde American poetry but have never adequately explained its scrupulous avoidance of abstraction and elimination of the poet from the poem. Drawing extensively on classic and contemporary theory, this book reveals postwar poetics, particularly the epics Paterson and The Maximus Poems, as the fulfillment of a longstanding Romantic social vision, one which seeks to invest Liberal social structures with a transcendental core. This book is a valuable source for scholars with an interest in Emerson and Pound Studies, the intellectual traditions leading to Modernism, and the Objectivist and Black Mountain schools of American poetry.
Passar bra ihop. Transgressive Fiction Robin Mookerjee Often dismissed as sensationalist, transgressive fiction is a sophisticated movement with roots in Menippean satire and the Rabelaisian carnal folk sensibility praised by Bakhtin. Bloggat om Identity and Society in American Poetry. The problematic nature of the rhetoric and forms of how minority poetry gets discussed is a function of several factors—of which the endemic American inability to deal head-on with the legacy and reality of racial oppression and disparities is one. Even as illustrious a critic as Bakhtin, despite some later revising of his ideas, held this bias as I discuss more fully in Chapter 6.
Ironically and self-contradictorily , critics of avant-garde poetry, who privilege a focus on form and who usually excoriate thematic readings of poems, will dismiss the relevance of race in the work of, say, Berssenbrugge, by recourse to the very sorts of thematic rationales they abhor: in this case, by citing the lack of racial themes or markers. If discussed at all, Asian American writing is treated as ancillary in the current academy and viewed as being of interest mainly to Asian American students; unlike African American literature, Asian American literature is almost wholly studied by specialists of Asian American literature, who are almost all of Asian descent.
The poetry is almost never taught—except perhaps in specialized Asian American literature courses, but even then not so much. Indeed, most critics of American literature or poetry can hardly name one Asian American poet, or at most one or two, and view the work as being tertiary to the American literary canon.
This is the case even though Asian American poetry has been written for more than a century by an array of authors whose ethnic origins, genres, and styles are widely varied. In terms of its breadth of aesthetic styles and time span, Asian American literature as a category is certainly more variegated and wide ranging than, say, Modernist writing. A little over thirty years after the arrival of Chinese immigrants to this country in the mid-nineteenth century, this perception of utter foreignness, nonassimilability, and un-Americanness—which, to a greater or lesser degree, has persisted to this day, albeit in slightly variant guises—had already hardened into pernicious, and legalized, form.
The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed in and not repealed until , was the first and only immigration exclusion law in American history to exclude a specific named group on the basis of race. In fact, the Chinese were seen as more unassimilable than even ex—chattel slaves. Persons belonging to it are, with few exceptions, absolutely excluded from our country.
I allude to the Chinese race. It is my contention that the answers surface as much in the formal structures as in the thematic content of Asian American poetry. Many of the poets in this study focus obsessively on the question of language and writing, even as their poems deal with a wide range of concerns.
Aesthetics Contra “Identity” in Contemporary Poetry Studies
Of course, to some extent all poets are hyperaware of the act of writing itself, but for Asian American poets, this relation to the writing—and wished-for mastery—of English takes on a heightened sense of self-consciousness because of their constitutive exclusion from the category of native speaker. There is also a strong case to be made for studying a sizable but largely neglected body of American writing: Asian American poetry. These writings did not just magically appear in universities—their presence was the result of hard-fought battles and struggles taking place over many years, and still being fought today, with professional and personal costs to minority professors and students.
One would think that things are different now, in the wake of multiculturalism and the changes wrought by the canon wars. The inability to communicate, an affliction that spans across generations for this Chinese American family, manifests itself as a mysterious illness on [ sic ] the young speaker who sees his relatives succumb to the ills of unhappiness bottled up within. This sort of reception is not atypical. This seems to be the tendency, though less pronounced, even when the critic works within the field of minority literature or is a minority person himself as is the case here.
Anyone who has written even a few lines of poetry knows how crucial a decision it is that someone chooses to write a poem—and not, say, a journalistic essay or political manifesto—and how essential are the myriad formal decisions made at every turn in a poem: where to break the line, what rhythmic or metrical pattern or none will govern, what will constitute the unit of the stanza, how the poem will look on the page, and so on. It is not only a matter of conscious authorial choice but no less of the submerged or unconscious structures of language that make themselves felt in the particular language of individual poems.
Thus, the occlusion or ignoring of race by critics and poets at the avant-garde end of the critical spectrum is equally as disturbing as the fetishization of racial and ethnic content and identity by more mainstream poetry critics. Critics of avant-garde writing, despite their openness to radical new poetic forms, often fall into the same traps as more formally conservative critics when thinking or, more accurately, not thinking the link between poetry and the subjectivity—which includes the racialized subjectivity—of the poet. While not writing for an avant-garde publication, the anonymous reviewer nonetheless privileges certain kinds of formal experiment and expresses a firm view of what constitutes bad ethnic writing:.
We should interrogate this monolithic view of what constitutes the avant-garde and what criteria of linguistic experimentation passes the test. Thus what we have really to investigate is not some single position of language in the avant-garde or language in Modernism.
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On the contrary, we need to identify a range of distinct and in many cases actually opposed formations, as these have materialized in language. By looking at this avantgarde writing, I put to a more strenuous test my argument that it is in the formal and rhetorical manifestations, particularly the linguistic structures, of the poems that one sees evidence of the impress of social and historical influences. These critical approaches profoundly impoverish our understanding of the complex multidimensionality and contradictions of American and English-language poetry.
The book builds its case by focusing with great particularity on the writings of five contemporary Asian American poets who range in age from their early forties to late sixties  —Li-Young Lee, Marilyn Chin, John Yau, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, and Pamela Lu—and whose poems represent a spectrum of literary styles, from expressive lyric to less transparently representational and more formally experimental. These specific formal aspects of the poems simultaneously reflect and manifest aesthetic influences  —compositional decisions, structures of language conscious and unconscious , the shadow of literary precursors, and so on—but also, importantly, the influence of sociopolitical forces and historical context, such as geographical location, current events, and his or her socialization in the world as a person of a particular, race, gender, sex, class, and educational level.
And it is as true for white poets as for minority ones. True, it claims the infinite and tries to reach across time—but across, not above. By juxtaposing form, sociohistorical context, and poetic subjectivity, it questions customary methodological, literary-historical, and disciplinary practices and assumptions—such as the supposed dichotomy between cultural-studies approaches and formal literary analysis.
Must a poetry or cultural critic be forced to choose between an interest in form with its implied anti-cultural-studies stance and the desire to understand the historical conditions, social and aesthetic, of the production of a poem? In the twenty-first century, is it not time to rethink these ingrained poetic and literary-critical categories and assumptions?
Paying close attention to what poems tell us—not so much in their stated content but in their formal manifestations—is itself a praxis-based methodology of theorizing. As poems in their linguistic specificity are powerful means of philosophically thinking about the world through language, so my close readings are, in their detailed unfolding, a theoretical engagement with the poem and the social world.
Thus, the use of participial phrases in the poetry of Mei-mei Berssenbrugge works differently and springs from different sources than the use of such phrases in the work of Myung Mi Kim or Robert Lowell. The lived experiences of all three poets as poets of particular social and historical formations are as much a part of their poetic subjectivities as are their readings in the poetic tradition, and these influences emerge in the form of language in the poem.
The 19th Century : Romanticism in Art and Literature
For the racialized poet, a significant part of her lived and psychic experience is the fact of having moved in the world and been apprehended as a racialized subject. I cannot emphasize this point enough. The fallacious assumption here is that because Yau and Eliot both seem to be making similar poetic and metaphysical moves, these moves are formally and substantively identical.
Given how radically different their persons, subjectivities, histories, contexts, and so on are, there is no way that their projects of destabilizing subjectivity are the same. Nor can the resulting poems be the same.
Poetry for Teens
Poetic subjectivities and poetic practices are not interchangeable. Sadly, though, our idea of ethnic Americans is often to unconsciously render them as abstract, one-dimensional, homogeneous, and interchangeable. While it may initially appear that Yau and Eliot are doing the same thing with the subject, their reasons for doing so stem from different contexts and are specific to, and part of, their own histories, subjectivities, and poetic projects. The subjectivity of an ethnic American is not a thing or a content. Of course other poets who are not Chinese American—such as T.
Eliot—destabilize the subject, too.
To underscore how the element of race skews these discussions about poetry; how it elicits reductive, contradictory, conflationary thinking; how it throws the burden of proof over and over again back onto the critic who raises the issue of race, one need only do two thought experiments.
How likely would this appeal to the extratextual be shot down for being extratextual? This praxis-based critical argumentation, in which the poems themselves suggest theoretical orientations, resists abstract generalizations that can easily oversimplify and render reductive and one-dimensional arguments about racial subjectivity and minority poetry. This more open and less regulative model of metaphor offers the possibility of rethinking binary ways of thinking about both metaphor and the interpellation of Americans in the political and literary critical spheres.
Choose Your Test
Chin called out what she saw as the veiled sexist, racist, and imperialist assumptions in his letter. I use this incident as a springboard to discuss several larger issues that arise from the incident and that frame the question of the place and reception of Asian American poets in the academy and in the poetry world at large.
For example, who has the right to translate and who has the right to write English-language poetry? What is the place of an Asian American woman poet in the poetry world, especially one who is outspokenly political and who refuses to conform to the model minority stereotype? This ironic voice is gendered and, variously, sassy, melancholic, sexy, and sober, but always fierce. Using a multivoiced irony allows her to mimic, express, and confront conflicting states of self-hatred, self-colonization, and erotic desire for white male domination, even as she hits hard at forms of colonialism.
They have often internalized both resistance to and desire for assimilation, epitomized by their desire for the white male body and what it represents—colonial, national, linguistic, and sexual power and domination. In Chapters 5 and 6, I focus on the work of John Yau, who occupies a unique position in the contemporary poetry world as an Asian American poet who has published more than fifty books—poetry well over a dozen since , art criticism, fiction, collaborations with artists such as Thomas Nozkowski and Archie Rand , monographs on artists, gallery catalogues not to mention essay contributions to various other books —and who has also achieved prominence as a critic in the art world.
He's credited with developing a style of poetry that was distinctly American and democratic in its outlook. He wrote in simple language, so that regular folks could access his poetry easily.
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Sounds pretty good to us. Whitman's poetry dwells on many of the themes that were important in American Romanticism. We'll find big doses of nature in his work, as well as reflections on freedom and democracy, and an emphasis on individualism and the imagination.