Margaret Rhee

On feminist poetics and pedagogy

Meeting Bhanu Kapil

Photo of Bhanu Kapil by Kelly Writers House staff.

I’m very excited to be here with Andrea Quaid and everyone today for collective conversations on feminist poetics and pedagogy. Like to many people, the two may not seem like conjoined subjects. I also admit I don’t purport to know much about the intersections of the two. I’ve explored both separately — pedagogy in the classroom, the jail, the digital space; poetry on the page, the classroom, in jars …. I’m excited either way for an exploration of both poetry and pedagogy, two passions that should intersect for me. Upon conversations with Andrea over the years, we’ve been keen to understand that as feminists engaged with poetics, our interests and work in pedagogy have often not had a space for the two to intersect. Why should feminist poets reclaim pedagogy as our own? In the symposium we’re hoping for a space that can facilitate this conversation. 

The first thing I want to say to you who are students, is that you cannot afford to think of being here to receive an education: you will do much better to think of being here to claim one … 

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  • The children and poetry

    I visited Cambridge Elementary School earlier this year upon the invitation to give a poetry reading to a group of very sweet and deeply sensible young children in the fourth grade. After I read two poems, the students let out small sighs and when asked by their teacher Ms. Martin how they felt, exclaimed “That was so beau-tiful! Poetry makes me so calm! I love poetry!”

    It may not have been the first time they heard poetry before. Poetry is seemingly everywhere. On billboards, on television screens, on radio broadcasts. But it may have been the first time they heard a poem read to them. What’s significant, and I don’t mean to suggest that these children loved my poetry in particular, is the sense that the rhythm, the terseness, the enjambments of poetry, offered a type of language and experience. It is true that my first book Love, Robot is a science fictional tale of a world where robots and humans fall in and out of love.

    A poem as a machine?

    Nearly baroque machine embroidery

    William Carlos Williams wrote in his introduction to The Wedge (1944) that “[a] poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words”; or “poetry is the machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all machines, its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.”[1] A poet and physician, Williams is most known for plums, the everyday, and minimalistic, rhythmic meter and lineation.

    Tweets, poems, and... kimchi?

    Image of Margaret Rhee's installation "The Kimchi Poetry Project"
    Margaret Rhee's installation "The Kimchi Poetry Project"

    Kimchi, a Korean side dish of fermented vegetables and spices, is perhaps best known as a polarizing condiment, engendering love, hatred, and YouTube videos of screaming children trying it for the first time. It is also serves as inspiration for the work of Margaret Rhee, a feminist new media artist and scholar. In The Kimchi Poetry Project, she asks, "What feminist methods, histories, and stories can we unearth and create through the poetics of kimchi?" (Rhee, "Installation - The Kimchi Poetry Project"). Rhee's innovative work explores the possibilities at the intersections of kimchi, tweets, and poetry.

    After publishing her poem "A Feminist History of Kimchi" in the anthology Conversations at the Wartime Cafe (2011), Rhee was invited to a poetry reading where she asked the audience to make "kimchi poetry" with her. The Kimchi Poetry Project was born. Rhee's participatory poetry venture includes a series of multimedia installations and objects.

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