Fall 2019 English Graduate Courses

350:588 - Black Poetics & the (In)visibility of Race

Course No:  350:588
Index # - 19011
Distribution Requirement:  A5, C, D
Monday - 1:10 p.m.
MU 207

Black Poetics & the (In)visibility of Race

Evie Shockley

That poetry is rooted in song is well understood popularly and is deeply implicated in contemporary scholarly debates about how to define and historicize the lyric, specifically, and the genre more broadly. The question of what visual culture and visuality mean for poetry receives less attention, both inside and outside the academy—perhaps because the scarcity and ephemerality of ancient poetic texts and the relative recency of print culture tend to position poetry’s material, visible “writtenness” as secondary to its orality. Indeed, poetry has been famously placed in competition with visual art as to whether narrativity or pictoriality is the “superior” mode of aesthetic expression. This course, rather than taking up that debate, focuses on the various ways contemporary black poets have emphasized poetry’s own visuality and its proximity to visual culture. Beginning with the proposition that, in the U.S., the past quarter-century or more has been defined by the prevalence of “colorblindness” as a political discourse and logic, the course facilitates an investigation of representations of black peoples and experiences in a range of visually oriented poetry. Moving between close readings and conceptual frameworks, we will consider how such poetry contributes to and engages with thinking about race in relation to: (1) embodied vs. discursive representations of black subjectivity; and (2) questions of black aesthetics (as a contingent and shifting category). When are poets reckoning with the hypervisibility of black bodies, and when are they concerned with black invisibility? How do they constitute black subjectivity textually and visually, in the face of pervasive efforts to silence discourses of race in the social or public sphere? As the semester progresses, we will integrate some readings of Asian-American poetry and poetics, with an eye toward issues of comparative racialization, as well as an expanded view of contemporary American poetry.

Course readings are likely to include poetry by Kamau Brathwaite, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Marilyn Chin, George Elliott Clarke, Rita Dove, Renee Gladman, Mendi + Keith Obadike, M. NourbeSe Philip, Claudia Rankine, Natasha Trethewey, Ronaldo Wilson, and John Yau; and writing in other genres by Elizabeth Alexander, Simone Browne, Brandi Wilkins Catanese, Margo Crawford, Nicole Fleetwood, Stuart Hall, Saidiya Hartman, Joseph Jeon, Meta DuEwa Jones, W. J. T. Mitchell, Toni Morrison, Harryette Mullen, Aldon Nielsen, Adrian Piper, M. NourbeSe Philip, Anthony Reed, Dorothy Wang, Alexander Weheliye, and Timothy Yu. Evaluation will be based upon regular attendance, weekly responses, class presentations, and two relatively short written projects.