Response to request by editors of special issues of IJCS to do a few paragraphs on what I've been reading in poetry criticism. I might have missed their deadline so not sure it will ever be in print. But here it is...
I’m always trying to figure out what is going on outside the fairly intimate relationship I have with various factions in the U.S. experimental poetry scene. This is a list of some things I’ve read recently that I’ve been moved by and also some of my all time favorites.
I’ve found some of the anthropological writing about poetry in other places really helpful. Steven Feld’s Sound and Sentiment: Birds, Weeping, Poetics, and Song in Kaluli Expression has a wonderful discussion of how birds show up in Kaluli lament and which birds and how they get represented; a whole new world for me on many different fronts. Lila Abu-Lughod's Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in Bedouin Society, and its gender-opposite parallel, Steven Caton’s Peaks of Yemen I Summon: Poetry as Cultural Practices in a North Yemeni Tribe both remind of how poetry has a long history and rich tradition of being more than just aesthetics and remains rooted in everyday modes of conversation in some locations. I’ve also found another version of this reminder is in those classic discussions of poetry’s role in political education such as Roque Dalton’s Poetry and Militancy in Latin America, Vladimir Mayakovsky’s “How Are Verses Made?,” and Pablo Neruda’s “The Poet’s Obligation.”
Recent literary criticism around poetry that I’ve found transformative would include Brent Hayes Edwards’ The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism and Walter Mignolo’s The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, & Colonization. Edouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation—this book has a stunningly beautiful beginning—has never stopped being useful and I’ve read it many times because I keep using it in courses. I also find Kamau Brathwaite’s writing about poetry, from his 1984 History of the Voice to his recently self published two volume MR: Magical Realism, unusually transformative and eye opening.
I also keep having this fantasy of teaching to MFA students a course that I imagine titling Writing of the Last 10 Years that is Not About Poetry but that Poets Should be Reading Anyway Because It Might Change What They Are Writing About. That twelve week course as I envision it right now would include: Judith Butler’s Precarious Life: The Power of Mourning and Violence, Pascale Casanova’s The World Republic of Letters: Convergences: Inventories of the Present, Jared Diamond, Collapse, Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums, Samuel Delany’s Times Square Red Times Square Blue, Greg Dening’s Islands and Beaches, Joanna Drucker’s Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity, Michael Hardt and Antoni Negri, Empire, John Holloway, Change the World without Taking Power: the Meaning of Revolution Today, Subcomandante Marcos’s The Word is Our Weapon, Michael Taussig’s My Cocaine Museum, and Peter Weiss’s The Aesthetics of Resistance (ok, I’m cheating a little on this last one which was published in German in 1975 but the translation into English is within the last ten years). The books in this course change for me from week to week.