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Become an alien: Erica Hunt’s oppositional poetics.

May 16, 2010 \pm\31 10:29 pm

In the essay “Notes for an Oppositional Poetics,” poet Erica Hunt asserts that conventional poetics are imbued with the broader social meganarratives of categorization and hierarchy. By dividing writing into genres of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, as well as poetry itself into various forms and schools—Imagists, Absurdists, Neo-formalists, Language poets—we mimic social order and inevitably give power to one form over another. “What is stunning is the brimming void in which visionary culture confronts power,” she writes.

Hunt reveals that our resistance as poets to change is a self-protective mechanism. Marginalized groups, such as African Americans and women, feel a sense of captivity from an early age and become accustomed to this sensation. We cling to an identity, which, while borne out of negative circumstances, is our own. If we redefine poetics, and meet power head-on, we are forced to recontextualize our identities. Further, Hunt depicts that we may be critical of “variations from tradition” in the same way that we, as variations from dominant groups, “have been judged.”

Hunt explores historical reconstruction as a method employed by oppositional intellectuals to reframe themselves both socially and textually. In these reconstructions, historical texts are written through the eyes of minorities so that they are central to the narrative, rather than other. Hunt analyzes these accounts as having both positive and ineffectual results. On the one hand, these reconstructions render history malleable and fuel “the expressive impulse for liberation.” Alternately, they may produce cultural fetishism. Further, Hunt conveys that ultimately these texts are often  coopted in light of dominant discourse– swallowed up and deemed other. You can witness this at most major universities, in which first-year and survey English classes are a sampler of mostly white, male writers, with specialty courses in Women Writers or African American Writers.

Hunt prescribes that we reframe poetics not only in changing the material we write about, but in conjunction with the language that we employ. Whether we “engage language as social artifact, as art material, as powerfully transformative,” these efforts must not be “distinct from projects that have as their explicit goal the use of language as a vehicle for the consciousness and liberation of oppressed communities.” Language is inherently political, and as poets, the intellectual and liberatory communities would serve each other in working together more unified front.

How do we do this? I don’t know. Most poets I encounter whose primary purpose is to push the atoms of language would never call themselves political poets. But viva la revolution anyway, because all poets are pretty fringe at this point.

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One Comment
  1. May 17, 2010 \pm\31 8:59 pm 8:59 pm

    This was a great read; I have no idea how we do it either, but damned if I’m not trying to find a way.

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