What's happening to us? Why is there a feeling of crisis in the culture? Two crucial reads, maybe the most important things I have read in a while (next Picketty's tome on capitalism): one, in this issue of THE NEW YORKER, is on the hunger games capitalism crushing all of us and how income disparity is a choice. It explains a lot of current thinking on the topic, but points a finger at why the rich are getting richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class is being erased, and it comes down to a kind of wholesale moral theft by our leadership: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/16/richer-and-poorer
The second read connects to the first in that it exposes one racist, classist way we raise public revenues: creating and maintaining a permanent underclass, that is not exclusively but is deeply racist and is another kind of wholesale theft. The just released report on Ferguson is explained in this issue of THE ATLANTIC. It exonerates the officer but lays the blame where it belongs, exposing one dangerous facet of our growing police state. And it's us. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/03/The-Gangsters-Of-Ferguson/386893/
In between these two articles, we can't ignore that we have militarized our police not to keep the public welfare, but to raid the poorest and/or most marginalized among us, and we've put into place the systems above that have and are chipping away at social systems that support all of us. Above and below, we have given away community. WE gave it away, and now the middle class is caught as if in a vise, and are we screaming? Trying to change things? No, we point fingers--color, religion, class, race, profession, you name it--and it's somebody else's fault that the standard of living is decreasing for most of us, while the uber rich, the trans-national rich increasingly hoard more and more. And we all sit back and complain while secretly aspiring to a wealth we will never see. All of us pointing fingers this way or that. It's our government, people. It's manifests what WE value. And that means US. If you are not outraged, you are either not awake or you are deluded--precisely what our current K-12 system tries to ensure.
Travis Hedge Coke winds down into the spitfires of language and naming and claiming and oppression and self-indictment, individual and cultural, in his essay, "Identity Indictment".
Excerpt: Indianicity ain’t a word. Nativeness is almost semantically null. Authenticity is a come on, a tease. I like self-identifying as NDN because it sounds like a word, but it isn’t a proper word, and it isn’t the one it sounds like, either. You will be found out by your cousins, your sisters, mothers, your sons and neighbors. Maybe you will find yourself therein, as well. That’s you, as in all of you, not only the Native poets, for no matter how neurotically we divvy up the world and desperately claim separations, there’s more mixing than there is divides. The ground and the air are intermixed things, and on this Earth, one always pulls you closer to it, and the other is constantly surrounding you, forever touching your skin, your mouth, and your blood.
To read the entire essay and all of the others, order the anthology here:
Paula Hayes takes on the racial underlayment in Van Jordan’s poetry in her essay, “Letting Science Tell the Story”.
Contemporary African American poet, A. Van Jordan, in his third collection of poems, Quantum Lyrics (2007), pursues matters of race by turning to the cultural history of science. As readers, we are swept into a labyrinth of science, physics, and mathematics, and in the very next breath we are met with science fiction, film and music. Unlikely and surprising characters, like Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger, and Richard Feynman, walk beside DC Comics superheroes, Flash, the Atom, and the Green Lantern, as historical truth, subjective truth, and popular culture traverse the boundaries of time and space. Holding together such a diverse range of ideas is Van Jordan’s use of the montage.
Van Jordan positions his “Quantum Lyrics Montage,” a subset within the larger work of Quantum Lyrics, into a rich history of African American modernism; we may think, here, of Langston Hughes’s The Montage of a Dream Deferred, Derek Walcott’s Omeros, and the writings of Melvin Tolson and Amiri Baraka. In part because of the expansiveness of the form, the montage becomes a poetic tool for deconstructing American narratives on race and identity, whether self-identity or communal identity.
Natasha Trethewey’s poetry of family and historic violence and personal racial hybridity is the subject of Timothy Leyrson’s “Writing Between Worlds”.
Trethewey’s views of her bi-racial identity, and race relations overall, are beneficial for a number of reasons. By embracing these concepts she is able to create deeper meaning in her own expression, for her readers who are bi-racial she develops a common bond, and readers of a singular racial background are forced to examine the world beyond their own perception. But perhaps the highest level of understanding is that her views may be acting as a method of transformation. The idea of being united in one’s own mind, as well as to others, it is explained by Trethewey herself in a lecture she delivered in Emory University’s Distinguished Faculty Lecture series on February 3, 2010. Trethewey stated: I believe, after all, that poetry is the best repository for our most humane, ethical, and just expressions of feeling. This is because poetry ennobles the human soul, that it opens—not closes—our hearts. Poetry matters...
For the full essay and all of the others, get the anthology here.
Hadara Bar-Nadav closely examines “The Radical Nature of Helene Johnson’s This Waiting for Love and asks us to consider the women poets of the Harlem Renaissance:
Critics tend to focus on Johnson’s more obvious breaks from conventions in which she uses urban vernacular language; however, it is in her pastoral poems that she is most radical, articulating a bold aesthetic vision while paying poetic lip-service to the master. In Johnson’s pastoral poetry, she constructs a revisionist model of poetics that envisions creative support among women; alternatives to the power dynamics of the traditional artist-muse relationship; alliances between women and nature, and women and poetry; and nature as a key subject through which subversive messages can be coded and accessed by others.
Among Johnson’s contributions to literature of the Harlem Renaissance is her use of nature as a means to revise conventional models of creativity. The poem “Magula” begins: “Oh Magula, come! Take my hand and I’ll read you poetry, / Chromatic words, / Seraphic symphonies...” (Johnson 2000, 34). This invitation from the speaker to Magula suggests that the creative interaction between these two women will result in a heavenly, musical language.
FOR THE FULL ESSAY AND ALL THE OTHERS, GET THE ANTHOLOGY HERE:
The weighing of competing or complimentary identity lenses is explored in Timothy Liu’s “Looking for Parnassus in America”, and he quarrels with himself in exploring why one might be privileged in his work over another.
In America, as an Asian American, I am among other things a model minority, an eternal outsider. The absence of any ESL or fresh-off-the-boat accent (which both of my parents had) might tip someone off that I was born here, but then again, I’ve gotten used to being asked the question, Where are you from?, and when I say the Bay Area or California or South San Jose or Almaden Valley (depending on my many moods), I often wait for the other shoe to drop: But where are you really from? So I repeat myself while adding: And you, where are you really from? Nine times out of ten, I get the Oh! I didn’t mean anything by that, to which I respond, No worries, neither did I.
In Hong Kong, when I lived there as a Mormon missionary, my Cantonese was so atrocious that the natives thought that I was either 1) retarded; 2) Japanese (and very ambitious in trying to learn how to speak Cantonese!); 3) Korean (on account of my moon-like face); 4) or Hawaiian (because I butchered Cantonese like an American).
FOR THE FULL ESSAY AND ALL THE OTHERS, GET THE ANTHOLOGY HERE:
Roxanne Naseem Rashedi teases out transgression and empowerment in the poetry of Clifton and Lorde in “Deconstructing the Erotic and Raced Body”.
In “Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” Lorde (2007) argues that the feminine erotic is accessible through poetry. Poetry accesses a place that is “dark…ancient and deep” (37). In “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Hélène Cixous (1976) argues that feminine writing “will always surpass the discourse that regulates the phallocentric system.” Lorde describes these “phallocentric systems” as structures of self-abnegation that suppress the feminine voice (2007, 39). Both women believe that writing reclaims that “deep” voice.
Lorde’s (2003) “Coal” taps into Cixous’s écriture feminine. “I am Black because I come from the earth's inside / now take my word for jewel in the open light.” FOR THE FULL ESSAY AND ALL THE OTHERS, GET THE ANTHOLOGY HERE:
In the next essay in the anthology, Lucy Biederman explores recent dialogue and debate in Jewish American literature and champions a movement.
“New Female Poets Writing Jewishly”
...when criticism of Jewish American poetry is impelled toward questions, definitions, and the work of establishing legitimacy or explanation for why Jewish American poetry can or should be studied, perhaps this stands in the way of reading Jewish American poetry as such. Alicia Ostriker has noted that the term “Jewish Literature” tends to exclude Jewish poetry (2009, 148). However, reading new female poets like Arielle Greenberg and Sabrina Orah Mark in a Jewish American context can potentially allow for deeper, broader, or clearer readings.
An indepth look at gender and race, Leigh Johnson in “Unsexing Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales’s I am Joaquin: gender and race archetypes” unpacks the feminist Chicano imagination.
Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales’s I am Joaquín (written with small distribution in 1967, published by Bantam Books in 1972) is one of the most widely recognized cornerstones of the Chicano literary canon. Undeniably the poem is manifesto, epic, and heralded literary production all in one. However, because I am Joaquín purports to speak for the Chicano Movement, yet largely leaves out women’s contributions, the poem has provided a basis for many responses—poetic, scholarly, and artistically—almost since its initial publication. While the issues of sexism and Chicano Movement discourse are not new, the discussion of Chicana poetic responses to I am Joaquín adds consideration of new poems and addresses how these poems use archetypes and naming in ways that other discussions of responses to I am Joaquín have not considered as thoroughly.
Chicana poets have resisted archetypal representations of women, and contemporary poets have also responded to the residual anti-feminism of the Chicano Movement. In a representative revisioning of I am Joaquín, several poets, Carmen Tafolla, Sylvia Alicia Gonzales, Lorna Dee Cervantes, and Sandra Cisneros, have explicitly addressed the misogyny they see in I am Joaquín. The poets use the cultural locator I am Joaquín to position women’s voices and experiences into the Chicano/a collective identity.
Matthew Lippman’s “Shut Up and Be Black” is the first essay in section two of the anthology and opens with questions across race and teaching, and the ways we affect each other through poetry.
How the hell am I supposed to teach Black Literature to high school students? I’m a white dude. Secular Jew from New York City, circa 1965. What do I know about Etheridge Knight, Patricia Smith, Ralph Ellison? Couple of poets. All poets, really.
I know this: I love their language. That’s the collision. Language love slamming up against experience. I barely know what it means to be a White, dude Jew from New York City, circa 1965, so how can I go into a classroom, tack up Knight’s “The Idea of Ancestry” or Patricia Smith’s “Skinhead” and even sound like I know what I’m talking about? I can’t. That’s my problem. I gotta try, right? I guess so.
I brought Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man into the curriculum, 11th grade English, at a small independent school outside of Boston proper, in 2011. What I know: I am not Black. What I know: Invisible Man has been my favorite novel since I first read it in college. Also, I know this: I am a Jew. The space between myself and the Black Man is huge.