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

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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 A 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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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 A 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.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jee Koh

    As a poet, I'd be deeply grateful to any reader who reads my poetry as closely as Dorothy J. Wang does to the writings of Li-Young Lee, Marilyn Chin, John Yau, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Pamela Lu. The quality of attention in Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry is strongly sympathetic, though never uncritical. Wang shows how the racialized formation of the poets' identity is, not a cause, but a determinant of the form and language of their poet As a poet, I'd be deeply grateful to any reader who reads my poetry as closely as Dorothy J. Wang does to the writings of Li-Young Lee, Marilyn Chin, John Yau, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Pamela Lu. The quality of attention in Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry is strongly sympathetic, though never uncritical. Wang shows how the racialized formation of the poets' identity is, not a cause, but a determinant of the form and language of their poetry. To ignore such influence is to read them willfully with one eye closed. Whether the poet treats race thematically, as Li-Young Lee, Marilyn Chin and John Yau do, or through formal means and experimental strategies, as Wang argues for Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Pamela Lu, he or she has to confront the realities of American racial politics. In her readings, Wang uncovers the complex deployment of the individual poet's dominant trope. She shows, for instance, that Li-Young Lee is a much more interesting poet than usually credited, by analyzing his slippery use of metaphor. Irony in Marilyn Chin and parody in John Yau are multi-directional, at once defensive and hostile. Even grammar bears the impression of race, in the participial phrases of Berssenbrugge, and the subjunctive subjects of Lu. Wang's analysis is informed by theorists such as Aristotle and Paul de Man on metaphor, Claire Colebrook and Linda Hutcheon on irony, Margaret Rose and Mikhail Bakhtin on parody, and Khachig Toloyan, William Safran and Paul Gilroy on diasporic writing, but she does not forget that poets have things to teach theorists too. So John Yau's poetry displays heteroglossia, a quality that Bakhtin reserves for the genre of novel. Quite unusually too, in a book of literary criticism, Wang is fearless in calling out prejudice and bigotry in the pronouncements of white critics. Two important chapters deal with the separate involvement of Marilyn Chin and John Yau in two critical controversies over race and literature. The chapters show how avowedly liberal white writers and translators arrogate to themselves the power to decide what is racial, what is literary. These chapters are integral to the thesis of the book. They make concrete the alienating circumstances under which Asian American poets write. "Racialized formation" is a very abstract notion, until one reads what has been so openly said, and nastily implied, in letters to public journals. As I read this volume, I hear echoes of the ideas that arose in my conversations with Dorothy, usually over brunch. Dorothy is a generous and exciting teacher, as her former students at the book party told me. I always leave her with new things to mull over. This book is the fruit of many years of thought. I will return often to it, and to the poetry that it celebrates.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Bollenbach

    Dorothy Wang's "Thinking It's Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity In Contemporary Asian American Poetry" offers an inspiring and rigorous assertion of the intimate relationship between aesthetics and racial identity in the work of the poets she discusses (Li-Young Lee, Marilyn Chin, John Yau, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, and Pamela Lu). The depth of Wang's readings--and in them, her careful attention to biographical, historical, socio-politcal, grammatical, linguistic, and literary constructions--b Dorothy Wang's "Thinking It's Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity In Contemporary Asian American Poetry" offers an inspiring and rigorous assertion of the intimate relationship between aesthetics and racial identity in the work of the poets she discusses (Li-Young Lee, Marilyn Chin, John Yau, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, and Pamela Lu). The depth of Wang's readings--and in them, her careful attention to biographical, historical, socio-politcal, grammatical, linguistic, and literary constructions--brings to light the complexity and the importance of understanding of the work in all of those contexts, rather than one or two of them, as a means to engender nuanced understandings of the poetry's political and social engagement which, as Wang repeatedly illustrates, is often missed or patently denied by contemporary literary critics. I highly recommend this book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Javier De

    Qué libro tan, pero que tan lúcido el que ha escrito Dorothy J. Wang sobre el hecho de que la forma de un poema nunca puede separarse de un análisis riguroso de la identidad del poeta. Así, ante los críticos formalistas que suelen despreciar la etiqueta de "identidad" y las políticas de identidad para con ello reforzar un canon blanco, Wang demuestra que son los poetas pertenecientes a una identidad minorizada (en este caso los que se incluyen dentro de la problemática etiqueta de "Asian-America Qué libro tan, pero que tan lúcido el que ha escrito Dorothy J. Wang sobre el hecho de que la forma de un poema nunca puede separarse de un análisis riguroso de la identidad del poeta. Así, ante los críticos formalistas que suelen despreciar la etiqueta de "identidad" y las políticas de identidad para con ello reforzar un canon blanco, Wang demuestra que son los poetas pertenecientes a una identidad minorizada (en este caso los que se incluyen dentro de la problemática etiqueta de "Asian-American") los principales motores de innovación formal de la poesía norteamericana contemporánea. Un libro contestón, inteligentísimo, pulido y con una prosa tan adictiva que sus análisis formales de poesía experimental casi parecen pequeños ejercicios de intriga. Desde ya de lo mejor que he leído sobre poesía y sobre la necesidad de seguir defendiendo el concepto de identidad en la literatura. ¡Qué barbaridad! «The primacy of race in the US imaginary and reality is not simply a question of sociological 'content' but has been, and continue to be, determinant of the forms of our textual productions—including our sacred foundational documents... Poems are never divorced from contexts and from history, even as they are, among other things, modes of thinking philosophically through an engagement with formal constraints. Likewise, what constitutes the social, the cultural, and the political must be analyzed for their linguistic and structural forms. Poetry works by conscious and unconscious means and arises from the complex interplay between the poetic imagination and the larger world. To be an American poet or poetry critic and not think about this larger world and its history seems like an incredible act of repression. The experience—the always politicized experience—of living as an Asian American subject and poet makes itself felt on the level of language... The language and content of poems are never divorced from the conditions of their making—those conditions being the historical, cultural, political, and social influence that, in Raymon William's words, are 'essentially related to a large part of the experience from which poetry itself [is] made.' These are equally important as the influence of literature and literary tradition.»

  4. 4 out of 5

    Smith

    What an amazing book. Highly technical and scholarly, but so important. Even if you have no previous training or schooling in poetry this book covers it all, while also discussing the issue of race, form, content, history, and more. The close readings are powerful and eye-opening, but Wang also creates a complex and nuanced argument for a massive change in the way poetry is thought and talked about.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    810.9895 W2463 2014

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rashaan

    A must read for anyone who cares about the written word.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    I still don't get what the phrase "Thinking its Presence" quite means, but I'm all in for the polemic style of the book. Rawr Dorothy Wang Rawr! I still don't get what the phrase "Thinking its Presence" quite means, but I'm all in for the polemic style of the book. Rawr Dorothy Wang Rawr!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jules

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alycia

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tse Guang

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lance

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kara

  13. 4 out of 5

    Heather Bruce

  14. 5 out of 5

    John Keene

  15. 4 out of 5

    Leon

  16. 4 out of 5

    Clara

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cameron Merrill

  18. 5 out of 5

    Janice Lee

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ching-In

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kendra

  21. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  22. 4 out of 5

    Aishe

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    Kiruthika

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    Exildah Smith

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    Zoe Tuck

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    Jessie Rose

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jerrod

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    James

  29. 5 out of 5

    Terri

  30. 5 out of 5

    Whtvrs

  31. 4 out of 5

    Kody

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    Lo

  33. 5 out of 5

    Ava Johnson

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    Michelle

  35. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

  36. 5 out of 5

    Dandi

  37. 4 out of 5

    Denzel Scott

  38. 4 out of 5

    Isaac

  39. 4 out of 5

    Angus

  40. 4 out of 5

    Dorothy Wang

  41. 5 out of 5

    Joshlynn

  42. 5 out of 5

    Hartley

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