Technics and Poetics: Media Histories of Black Poetry

Abram FoleySeminar Room 3

This panel brings together two literary critics and a contemporary poet to consider poetry written by black poets from Africa, the Caribbean, and continental North America. The common thread that ties these presentations together is an interest in and emphasis on the media and technology of poetic expression. Taking the technics of poetics as foundational for the panel, each presentation builds on this foundation in unique ways.

Christine Okoth’s paper addresses the racialized history of print technology in relation to black ecopoetry, Abram Foley’s presentation discusses Kamau Brathwaite’s digital experiments with typography in relation to his decolonial poetics. And Petero Kalulé’s poetry reading and subsequent brief public interview situates his own poetry in relation to instruments both musical and digital. Together, these presentations undertake an initial investigation into what we are calling the media histories of black poetry.

Ecology and the Space of the Poem: Dionne Brand and Harryette Mullen (Christine Okoth)

This paper takes as its point of departure the work of black ecopoetics and explores that genre’s interest in the relationship between ecology and technologies of reading. Building on the recent work of Angela Hume and Sonya Posmentier, I ask how poetic works extend the rubric of the ecological in order to contemplate the racial foundations of textuality and poetic form. Dionne Brand’s long-lyric poem Inventory and the poems of Harryette Mullen’s collection Trimmings offer two perspectives on this question of poetics, reading, and ecology. Brand’s reference to coltan mining in the DRC in her long lyric poem Inventory, for instance, accentuates how the devices with which we read are shaped by the violent extraction of resources from places that bear the marks of colonialism and the slave trade. Mullen’s play on Steinian repetitions highlights the absenting of waste and wasting within the space of the list poem. More generally, this paper seeks to expand the rubric of the ecological, asking what happens when we consider the poem as an ecologically racialised space.

Kamau Brathwaite’s Typographic Poetics as Decolonial Practice (Abram Foley)

In a 1988 interview, the Barbadian poet, historian, and critic Kamau Brathwaite comments on the intersection of digital technology and the “nation language” of the Caribbean he had theorized in his critical work The History of the Voice (1984). When pressed to explore the contradiction that a primarily oral “nation language” might find expression on the digital screen, Brathwaite responds that “the computer has moved us away from scripture into some other dimension which is ‘writing in light’… [It] is getting as close as you can to the spoken word” (40). This paper investigates this statement alongside the development of Brathwaite’s specialized “sycorax video style” and in the context of works by media historians such as Harold Innis and Vilém Flussser to situate Brathwaite as a decolonial media theorist.

Poetry Reading and Discussion with Petero Kalulé

Petero Kalulé is a musician and poet. His writing appears online at Burning House Press, Minor Literatures, and The Island Review, among other places. Kalimba, his first book of poems, was published by Guillemot Press in 2019. Drawing on cultural influences from Cecil Taylor to cybernetics, and on instruments such as the drum and the kalimba of the book’s title, Kalulé’s first collection attunes itself to the cultural effects of medial making. For this panel, Kalulé has agreed to read a handful of poems alongside a pubic discussion—led by Foley and Okoth—of his work.

Sun 4:00 pm - 5:15 pm