Poetics of the Americas

Dennis Tedlock
This seminar will be guided, in part, by a strategic (or provisional) essentialism. We will look and listen for poetryÑwhether past, ongoing, or projectedÑthat is specific, in some radical sense, to the so-called Americas or New World or Western Hemisphere, or to Turtle Island. In the case of poetries from the indigenous languages of these worlds, we will try for modes of interpretation and translation that neither locate them on the margins of Eurocentric poetics nor assign them to a prehistory of poetics. In the case of poetries that belong to the new languages of these worlds, which is to say creoles and pidgins, we will again try to decenter Europe.

Texts dealing with the first contacts between Europeans and the peoples who were new to them will be read for clues to poetic differences, with special attention to native accounts of the invaders. We will also consider the radically indigenous writings of the Americas, including pictographs but with special attention to newly deciphered Mayan texts. Mayan literature, written in what turns out to be a phonetic script, begins 500 years earlier than English literature. Its re-emergence into readability, which comes at the same time as a major cultural renewal among Mayan peoples, poses major problems for Eurocentric cultural schemes (and for Olson's human universe).

One-page response papers will be due at each meeting, with a longer piece of work due at the end. Alternatives to term papers may be negotiated, including translations, writerly works, performance pieces, etc.

Readings will include a wide range of texts, translations, and interpretations by most of the following and others as well: Paula Gunn Allen, Mary Austin, Jorge Luis Borges, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Daniel G. Brinton, Edouard Glissant, Dell Hymes, Ah Maxam, Alonzo Gonzales M-, Charles Olson, Simon Ortiz, Andrew Peynetsa, Kenneth Rexroth, Jerome Rothenberg, Mar'a Sabina, Leslie Marmon Silko, Gary Snyder, Nathaniel Tarn, Cecilia Vicu-a, Jay Wright, Lady Xok, Ray Young Bear. Listenings will cover a wide range of performances in various languages, some of which will be made available in the tape lab on the first floor of Clemens.