Class Notes Feb 13

As a reader, it is necessary to give thought to the writer’s imagined reality before attempting to find meaning in the words. … As readers, it is our job to suspend our immediate and instinctive search for meaning and realize that words don’t really have inherent meaning; their meaning is given by the writer (or speaker). I don’t think poetry always explains itself, but it does question the reality that we make for ourselves.

“I can take the language for what it is and comprehend it in a much more complex way. In terms of poetics, ASL is able to convey so much more feeling than the english language and makes all translations feel inadequate.” —Jasmine

Intent & impact

“I think a more specific definition of “open text” goes something like this: a text that intentionally plays with forms and conventions to challenge social constructs. … While not explicit, Hejinian seems to view this intentionality as a prerequisite to a lack of closure– even from the title of her work, we see that openness must be chosen, through an active “rejection” of closure. …

I believe intentionality is at the crux of the debate. Even if we do not come to an agreement about intentionality in experimentalism in class, perhaps it at least provides a starting point for many of the questions that we have asked ourselves or been asked by our readings this week– Are all black poets experimental? Are all poems by black poets experimental? (different questions, in my opinion) Should all auto-generated (or randomly generated) work be considered experimental, or what auto-generated work can be considered experimental? Does the poet have to be “experimenting” for their identity or poems to be “experimental”? Can a poet “experiment” without their work being “experimental” (a question raised briefly by Shockley, 11)? Can a reader be experimental without the work being such?” —Moie

“This, I want to postulate, is what experimental poetics could be—a heightened anxiety of influence, to a point where Frankenstein-ly experimentation is the only way out of a white western rabbit hole, to do something so outside the usual that it is disconnected from the oppressive predecessors. To open up the English language to new heights, to veer from historically oppressive uses of this language, and to try to improve what language means in the modern day.” —Arie

“As a result, when I think of experimental poetry, I think of a release. I think of a revolutionary way of telling a story, of engaging a reader, of speaking one’s truth.” —Peter

“Experimental poetics might be that which outrightly rejects a form that parades as universal, that which defies a tradition that hypes itself up as obligatory standard.” —Isiah

“I am reflecting on what types of difficult texts we are taught to value in an educational system and culture defined by hegemonic control. Of course, white, male artists who wrote for white audiences are dominant. There are also aesthetic patterns in canonical texts: predictable difficulty is celebrated while unpredictable difficultly is excluded.

… Given the troubling implications of categories and rigid aesthetics, I am considering how we can best approach texts that are not only difficult, but also unpredictable and distinct from other poetic forms. What frameworks of thought might we use to approach these texts? Is it possible to approach a text without a framework? Will a combination of frameworks might allow a poem space for multiplicity? Is there a violence to constructing a thesis on the meaning of a text?” —Marielle

“But who has total control and authority over their texts? The nuances of identity seem to be beyond the scope of Hejinian’s essay. …  An open text actively opens up interpretations, destabilizes the power relations between persons and texts where the persons are traditionally assumed to be actively manipulating the passive texts.” —My


“All it takes for something beautiful to become violent is a new context. … At the same time, Amiri Baraka puts forth a powerful argument for the importance of context, and lifting quotes out of context, even credited, risks erasing the very specificity of context that Baraka is speaking for. … 

I wrote down the lines I wrote down because they sparked a thought of my own. These thoughts were not necessarily deep and not necessarily linear, but determined which fragments I pulled up by the roots to examine and keep. I want to think more about this process of creating fragments for myself- is it a powerful way to engage in conversation, or is it a violent way to appropriate language for my own white mind?

The idea of an open text is inviting but can also feel, depending on the positionality of the reader, like a dissection or an extraction.” —Talia


“Works spoken from their own culture are by necessity difficult.”

Difficult for whom? The author being difficult is necessary because it challenges the standard.

  • No singular truth / “correct” reading of a poem
  • Authority of interpretation
  • Limitations of understanding / access to poem (when you’re struggling with a text)
  • Feeling as a way of knowing
    • Not as filler, feelings that engage with the text
  • What does a poem sound like? Read it out loud / watch a performance?
  • Poetics: repetition
  • What is the poem responding to / in relation to structurally?
  • Who is the poet?
  • What does this remind you of?


Expressive Language – Amiri Baraka

  • Specificity gives culture it’s use; a result of context
  • Context is social, of which economic is currently largest part
    • *the current language of culture derives from economics: production, value, worth, capital, etc.
  • “Then words, like their users, have a hegemony.”
  • “Words’ meanings, but also the rhythm and syntax that frame and propel their concatenation, seek their culture as the final reference for what they are describing of the world.”
  • “And all cultures communicate exactly what they have, a powerful motley of experience.”

Renegade Poetics, Introduction

  • what do we mean by “black aesthetic”?
    • risks of essentializing / parochialism
    • imposed or organic?
    • orality, musicality, overt celebration of black heroes & history
  • “aesthetics are not universal, but culturally specific” (4)
  • “to recognize and insist upon the validity of an African American culture that emcompases not only the retentions of the African cultures from which the enslaved population was drawn, but also the unique culture that the enslaved developed out of the conditions and imperatives of their lives in the U.S.” (4)
  • a theory of African American literature
    • cultural context in meaning and operation of literary language (6)
    • foreground literary structure and form as the evidence cultural specificity (6)
    • what is excluded?
  • writerly texts vs speakerly texts
  • redefinition of “black aesthetics” to be descriptive not prescriptive (7)
    • plural
    • “describes the subjectivity of the African American writer–that is, the subjectivity produced by the experience of identifying or being interpolated as ‘black’ in the U.S.–actively working out a poetics in the context of a racist society.” (9)
    • contingent and must be contextualized
    • “othering” (9)
  • experimental attempts to “coax from the available tools of language something that is felt to have been excluded, repressed, or rendered impossible” (10)
    • Mullen: “I would define innovation as explorative and interrogative, an open-ended investigation into the possibilities of language, the aesthetic and expressive, intellectual and transformative possibilities of language.” (10)
  • Does it take something more or different for Black poets to be understood as experimental poets?” (13) or is “simply being Black” avant-garde?
    • essentialist?
    • Moten: “To say that Blackness is intrinsically experimental is not the same thing as to say that Black folks are intrinsically experimental” (13)
    • being read and heard (and seen / constructed as being) “black” functions as a constraint on artists
    • who is it that’s understanding black as experimental? self-determined or othered and exoticized?
    • Hunt’s oppositional poetics

Rejection of Closure

  • open vs closed texts
  • failure of language to encompass or represent
  • qualities of an open text: ambiguity, unfixed, incomplete, (distinct) infinitude [vs. universality], form to differentiate but not contain;
  • “The essential question here concerns the writer’s subject position.”
  • modes of an open text: repetition, generative, non-authoritarian, foregrounds process, resists fixity, reduction, and commodification, non-linear, repetition, atemporality, aporias, constraints, disruptive of established symbolic order
  • language as a pattern-system

Baraka & Hejinian

  • talk about music and form (active, constructed, multiple, responsive, generative)
  • hegemony of language (Baraka: “final dictation of words over their users”; Hejinian: “Language discovers what one might know, which in turn is always less than what language might say.”)
  • Baraka: “Words’ meanings, but also the rhythm and syntax that frame and propel their concatenation, seek their culture as the final reference for what they are describing of the world … But for every item in the world, there are a multiplicity of definitions that fit. And every word we use could mean something else.” with Hejinian: “…words are not equal to the world, that a blur of displacement, a type of parallax, exists in the relation between things (events, ideas, objects) and the words for them–a displacement producing a gap.” CRT’s: differend
    • *experimental poetry inhabits that gap rather than trying to close it, tries to open it
  • Language as desire. Desire for knowledge, for culture. Male and female, white and non-white. Male / white desire is dominating, dangerous, distorted, possessive, violent. Rankine’s “right of access.”
    • *inaccessibility as a mode of poets of color resisting white supremacy?
    • universality vs. specificity / context

About Erica Mena

Erica Mena is a Puerto Rican poet, translator, and book artist. Pronouns: they/them.
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One Response to Class Notes Feb 13

  1. Luwei Quan says:

    “works from another culture are by necessity difficult” (class)


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