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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2006

E 395M • Visual Poetics, Visual Politcs, Framing Form in 20th C. African Poetry

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
35800 TH
5:00 PM-8:00 PM
MEZ 1.204

Course Description

What is the relationship between poetic form and visual enactment, visual perception and writing and reading practices in contemporary (African) American poetry? This course will explore the plethora of potential answers to this query by examining poets' dynamic engagement with visual artistry in a plethora of ways: both neo-formalist and experimental poetry traditions, ekphrasis, poem-paintings and other public performance installations from the museum to the metro station; collaborative projects with sculptors, painters, photographers and/or cinematographers; artist's books; and the spirituality and materiality of the image-ined poem in process and poem as iconic product. Our reading, viewing and critical-creative writing will seek to broaden the spectrum of practices typically deemed as innovative within the African American poetic tradition.

More specifically, scholarship on Black poetics has historically focused upon the poetry's relationship to speech and sound based forms- particularly forms closely identified with black expressive culture verbally and musically. While not arguing for the obsolescence of oral based forms in African-American poetry, nor suggesting a discrete dichotomy exists amid spoken performance and written or imaged text, this seminar will nevertheless advance an agenda that foregrounds visual poetics, visual and visionary literacy, and visual artistry as the primary mediums of artistic interchange in need of theorization within this millennium. Such a theoretical turn, or to extend our visual metaphors, frame, enables a radical departure from identity-based poetics and politics that center subjectivity as a predetermined inscription through the interstices of race, gender, sexuality, class, age, and ability.

Instead, a rubric that engages imagism, iconicity and lyric as well as non-lyric subjectivity should enable an engagement in a poetics of transformation that involves HOW black poetry visually represents and constitutes a distinctly American idiom, WHO it inspires and WHAT the poem as process and product or poem's speaker as personae performs. This re-visioning the critical landscape of African-American poetry will correspond to an investigation of the prose-based paradigms upon which African-American literary theory and criticism has chiefly been built.


We will move from specific claims black feminist theorist Michelle Wallace made more than two decades ago to concerning "the problem of the visual in African-American culture" to consider the implications Harryette Mullen's landmark theorization of "visionary literacy" in African Signs and Spirit Writing. Other critical and creative texts will include, Mackey, Paracritical Hinge, Aldon Nielson, Integral Music, Bell Hooks, Visual Politics: Art on My Mind, Black Looks: Race and Representation, Erica Hunt, Arcade, "Oppositional Poetics," C.S. Giscombe, Giscombe Road, Russell Atkins, Here in The, Harryette Mullen, Sleeping With the Dictionary, Trimmings, Cornelius Eady, You Don't Miss Your Water, Rita Dove, Mother Love, American Smooth


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