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Unfit for History: Race, Reparation and the Reconstruction of American Lyric

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 October 2020

JESS COTTON
Affiliation:
School of English, Philosophy and Communications, Cardiff University. Email: CottonJ1@cardiff.ac.uk.
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

This article explores how contemporary US black poetics evidences the entanglement of the history of lyric with the history of race. Through readings of the work of Claudia Rankine, Evie Shockley, Tyehimba Jess and Terrance Hayes, I make the case that this poetics situates American lyric within the violence of Reconstruction to imagine how Black Reconstruction may be enacted in cultural form. My contention is that this poetics makes lyric “unfit for history” and thus exposes the racialization processes embedded in poetry's modern life forms. I show how this poetics does not simply recuperate lyric subjectivity but presents a different model of subjectivity altogether, one that is rooted in a fugitive idea of blackness. I locate this lyric from the publication of Shockley's the new black (2011), as a reckoning with the failures of representation that were pronounced in the colour-blind politics of the Obama era and chart it to Hayes's engagement with Trumpian politics in his sonnet sequence American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (2018). I argue that this contemporary poetics, which makes its argument through a destabilization of genre, unravels the racialization processes embedded in the form of reading poetry that Virginia Jackson refers to as “lyricization.”

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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