In her work, Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry, Evie Shockley reads Gwendolyn Brooks’s “The Anniad,” Sonia Sanchez’s Does Your House Have Lions?, and Harryette Mullen’s Muse & Drudge as epics. She analyzes how their poetics pressure the genre and how their texts “achieve something with the epic that it was not created to do.” Who tells the story for and about the community, and how it is told, is radically transformed. In her analysis, Shockley is also asking questions about reading. She suggests Brooks, Sanchez, and Mullen “require us to accommodate new kinds of heroes and questions, previously unrecognizable as such because of the race, gender, class, and sexual presumptions that have attended the genre of the epic as it developed within the Anglo-American literary tradition.” What do we perceive and what do we render in advance “unrecognizable” when read through a received lens?
Litia Perta asks us to think about criticism as a practice of care and not as attack. This suggests a type of attention, a generative reading method that moves alongside a work and not against it. When I write about the authors’ works in my project, I am writing alongside and toward.
In the past month, I’ve begun another, not unrelated, practice of breathing more space into my body.
Women experimental writers working alongside-within a poetic genre can breathe space into it.
Joseph Donahue is one of my teachers, though I never took a class with him; one of my influences, though I write nothing like him. I count myself lucky to have crossed paths with Joe and his work at a time in my development — as a poet and scholar of poetics — when I was most consciously and openly trying to figure out what to value, what to attempt, and how to grow. He arrived at Duke while I was there as a graduate student and began, in his characteristically unassuming way, to expand the conversation about poetry and poetics within the English department.
Evie Shockley’s first reading of NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! #6 is the first of five we will publish in this second set of short essays in the new series. We will soon add first readings of Philip by Arlene Keizer, Meta DuEwa Jones, and Kathy Lou Schultz, among others. — Brian Reed, Craig Dworkin, and Al Filreis
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If I remember correctly, my first first reading of NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! was a listening. In that I was lucky, because Philip is a beautiful reader of her own work, reciting in a quiet, steady voice that makes even the harshest, most guttural sounds in the English language (“l/anguish”) sound comforting — and also because hearing parts of Zong! read aloud gives one assurance that it can be read on the page.