Blackness, Freedom, Free Verse
ENGL 604/800, Winter 2017, Monday 6:00-8:15pm
Analyzing the “complicity of slavery and freedom,” Saidiya Hartman asks: “is not the free will of the individual measured precisely through the exercise of constraint and autonomy determined by the capacity to participate in relations of exchange that only fetter and bind the subject?” The key terms of this complex question — freedom, measure, constraint — bear not only upon problems of social determination, but also upon problems of poetic form. Is it possible to link social determination and poetic form, as these pertain to Black history and aesthetics, through the sort of question Hartman asks?
Taking up the bearing of this question upon contemporary American poetry, this course will focus on the relation between Blackness, freedom, and free verse. We will read poetry by Claudia Rankine, Aimé Césaire, Dionne Brand, Jean Toomer, M. NorbeSe Philip, Nathaniel Mackey, C.S. Giscombe, Amiri Baraka, and Evie Shockley leading us into investigations of how the history and experience of racial ascription is at issue in discrepant forms of free verse lyric, open field poetry, and poetic cartography. Interspersed with these volumes, we will discuss theories of Black positionality, performativity, and aesthetics articulated by Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Fred Moten, Frank Wilderson, and Neil Roberts.
Black Life, Social Death, Poetic Form
WEEK 2 Blackness and Freedom
- Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book”
- Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection, Chapters 4 & 5
- Neil Roberts, Freedom as Marronage, Part 1 & 3
WEEK 3 Blackness and Free Verse
- Stéphane Mallarmé, “Crisis in Verse”
- Ezra Pound, “A Retrospect”
- Charles Olson, “Projective Verse"
- Nathaniel Mackey, Discrepant Engagement, “On Edge,” “Other: From Noun to Verb”
- Fred Moten, In the Break, “Resistance of the Object,” from “The Sentimental Avant-Garde”
- Evie Shockley, from Renegade Poetics, Introduction & Coda
WEEK 4 The Prose of the World
- Claudia Rankine, Citizen
- Frank Wilderson, from Red, White, and Black, Introduction and Chapter 1
- Fred Moten, “Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh)
Negritude: Return / No Return
WEEK 6 Dionne Brand, Primitive Offensive
- Dionne Brand, A Map to the Door of No Return
Reconstruction, Jim Crow, North and South
WEEK 7 Jean Toomer, Cane
- Langston Hughes, “The Negro Poet and the Racial Mountain”
WEEK 8 Tyehimba Jess, Olio
- Amiri Baraka, “The Blues Aesthetic and the Black Aesthetic”
Middle Passages, Migrations
WEEK 9 M. NourbeSe Philip, Zong!
WEEK 12 Amiri Baraka, Black Magic: Sabotage, Target Study, Black Art (pdf) (issuu)
- Amiri Baraka, “How You Sound?”, “The Legacy of Malcolm X, and the Coming of the Black Nation,” “State/meant”
- Nathaniel Mackey, “The Changing Same: Black Music in the Poetry of Amiri Baraka”
WEEK 13 Evie Shockley, The New Black
- Evie Shockley, "Complicating the Subject: Harryette Mullen's Muse & Drudge as African American Blues Epic"