Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Poetry and the Other

Also of interest to me this morning is Ren Powell's post up over at ReadWritePoem. In the post she talks about her experience using an Arabic form of poetry while writing in English and some of the criticism she's received for using it. Interestingly, she brings up the fact that the haiku is used in English poetry all the time without comment (along with many other forms borrowed from other cultures). I hadn't consciously thought about the "borrowing" of this Japanese form before.

Her questions about the intercultural dialogue in poetry have long intrigued me. In fact, when I was a beginning poet as an undergraduate, I was heavily influenced by Native American writers like Wendy Rose, Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Paula Gunn Allen. I have poems from that time period, highly confessional, that explore my connection to their work but also my unease at being a white woman of the privileged class. I left that work behind as I came into my own voice in my own time, but I also wonder if I left it behind because I wasn't comfortable "borrowing" certain rhythms and themes.

Here's the opening of Powell's post:
I have always found it difficult to locate a comfortable place to position myself between respect and reverence when it comes to the “other.”

And here's the closing:
Do we seek out the influence of poets from other cultures? Allow ourselves to be influenced? Allow it and admit it and risk being accused of cultural stereotyping or colonialist tendencies? Allow it but keep it a secret and risk being accused of trying to pass off the ideas of another culture as one’s own?

Sometimes I feel the bigger my world gets, the more difficult it is to negotiate comfortably within it.

The conversation continues in the comments of Powell's post.


Charlotte Pence said...

That's a great closing, and those questions are ones that will rattle about without any firm answers for me. It's also interesting how you connected your early influences to this issue of assimilation, identity, and discomfort. What are we, though, if not poets who are influenced by other poets...?

Sandy Longhorn said...

Poets influenced by other poets, exactly. I know it isn't that simple, given history, but I prefer to think of poetry eliminating borders rather than reinforcing them.