"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thank you, Mr. S.

At the risk of opening up the same old wormcan that caused ruckus during the summer of 2005, I'd like to excerpt Reginald Shepherd below:

"I have always intensely disliked what I call identity poetics, the use of poetry as a means to assert or claim social identity. The impulse to explain poetry as a symptom of its author's biography or its social context is pervasive these days, including among authors themselves. But that has always seemed to me a form of self-imprisonment, neglecting or even negating the possibilities poetry offers not just of being someone else, anyone and/or everyone else, but of being no one at all, of existing, however contingently, outside the shackles of identity and definition. Poetry is, among other things, a way of opening up worlds and possibilities of worlds."

If y'all remember my "Tortilla School," the skirmishes that followed, and the now micro-footnote in poetic history that was "The New Sincerity," reading Shepherd's post above may stimulate some additional thought. It may clarify what I was unable to express at the time.


csperez said...

i usually agree with what reginald writes, but 'identity poetics' is so much more than 'the use of poetry as a means to assert or claim social identity'.


Tony R said...

I hear you, CS. However, there is a contingent of "identity poets" who seem to be more interested in asserting identity than writing poems. Or, maybe another way to put it is that they think it's fine to write poems, as long as they express certain pre-fab notions about identity. For example, as a person of color, I have been told by others (other people of color) what my identity is and how to express it. To assert my own identity, to choose to self-identify in a way that runs counter to accepted norms in a certain community or communities is anathema in these circles.

Granted, not every "identity poet" holds these views, but most with whom I've had contact do. And it's discouraging to say the least.

csperez said...

hey tony. what you say is quite true. those kind of identity poets suck.

Reginald Shepherd said...

Dear Tony,

Thanks for quoting and pointing people toward my post on identity poetics. That piece is an excerpt from a longer essay called "The Other's Other," which originally appeared in the Michigan Quarterly Review and will appear in highly revised form in my essay collection Orpheus in the Bronx, which the University of Michigan Press will publish next year in the Poets on Poetry series. (No, I am no stranger to self-promotion.)

I agree with CS that the exploration of identity as poetic material has many possibilities--I've tried to avail myself of some of them in my own work. But I have had the same experience that you have, and you put it quite well: too many identity poets are more interested in asserting identity than in writing poems. And like you, all my life I've had people, in my case both black and white, tell me what my identity is and how I should express it. There are very rigid and reified (pre-fab, as you so aptly call them) ideas of what counts to be legitimately "black" or legitimately "a black poet."

Thanks again for the mention, and for your interesting blog in general. I'm glad that C. Dale Young's blog pointed me toward it.

all best,

Reginald Shepherd