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.