Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry

Stanford University Press
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When will American poetry and poetics stop viewing poetry by racialized persons as a secondary subject within the field? Dorothy J. Wang makes an impassioned case that now is the time. Thinking Its Presence calls for a radical rethinking of how American poetry is being read today, offering its own reading as a roadmap. While focusing on the work of five contemporary Asian American poets—Li-Young Lee, Marilyn Chin, John Yau, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, and Pamela Lu—the book contends that aesthetic forms are inseparable from social, political, and historical contexts in the writing and reception of all poetry. Wang questions the tendency of critics and academics alike to occlude the role of race in their discussions of the American poetic tradition and casts a harsh light on the double standard they apply in reading poems by poets who are racial minorities. This is the first sustained study of the formal properties in Asian American poetry across a range of aesthetic styles, from traditional lyric to avant-garde. Wang argues with conviction that critics should read minority poetry with the same attention to language and form that they bring to their analyses of writing by white poets.
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About the author

Dorothy J. Wang is an Associate Professor in the American Studies Program at Williams College.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Stanford University Press
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Published on
Dec 4, 2013
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Pages
416
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ISBN
9780804789097
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / American / Asian American
Literary Criticism / Poetry
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Poetry by Asian American writers has had a significant impact on the landscape of contemporary American poetry, and a book-length critical treatment of Asian American poetry is long overdue. In this groundbreaking book, Xiaojing Zhou demonstrates how many Asian American poets transform the conventional “I” of lyric poetry—based on the traditional Western concept of the self and the Cartesian “I”—to enact a more ethical relationship between the “I” and its others.

Drawing on Emmanuel Levinas’s idea of the ethics of alterity—which argues that an ethical relation to the other is one that acknowledges the irreducibility of otherness—Zhou offers a reconceptualization of both self and other. Taking difference as a source of creativity and turning it into a form of resistance and a critical intervention, Asian American poets engage with broader issues than the merely poetic. They confront social injustice against the other and call critical attention to a concept of otherness which differs fundamentally from that underlying racism, sexism, and colonialism. By locating the ethical and political questions of otherness in language, discourse, aesthetics, and everyday encounters, Asian American poets help advance critical studies in race, gender, and popular culture as well as in poetry.

The Ethics and Poetics of Alterity is not limited, however, to literary studies: it is an invaluable response to the questions raised by increasingly globalized encounters across many kinds of boundaries.

The Poets

Marilyn Chin, Kimiko Hahn, Myung Mi Kim, Li Young Lee, Timothy Liu, David Mura, and John Yau

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