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Writing About Race: Los Angeles Review of Books’s Tess Taylor Considers the ‘Texts with Which We Craft and Fathom Our Lives’

By Harriet Staff

After Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Toni Morrison) and after “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” (Edgar Allan Poe), Tess Taylor considers the impact of race in the writings of three contemporary poets: Jake Adam York, Rachel Richardson, and Martha Collins.

Morrison then, asks us both for new criticism and new stories. In particular, she invites literary practitioners to read the racial fogs out of which they themselves construct narrative. How can writers who have avoided thinking about their racial experiences as racial begin to read and write about those experiences? Which instincts towards silence or omission might a (white) writer engaged in this process have to overcome? What is at stake in naming spaces where race, racialization, and racism occur in white lives? If the rhetorics of white experience are partially maintained by rhetorical strategies of not-saying, not-knowing, self-normalizing, what does it mean to craft stories of white experience in which racial processes are destabilized, unveiled, or revealed? In short, how does a subject take responsibility for moving from whiteness to witness?

There cannot be prescriptive answers to such questions. But three contemporary poets — Jake Adam York, Rachel Richardson, and Martha Collins — have begun to give aesthetic form to such inquiries as they struggle to name and claim some of the paradoxes of inheriting white codes, bodies, and privilege. Each works both within and without the “fog” Morrison describes. Each attempts a close reading of his or her own patterns of racialized experience — attempting, in self-marking to make legible uneasy codes that converge upon their lives and bodies. In doing so, each tries to make the occluding cloud that often serves to normalize white violence somewhat less blinding, and perhaps, to chart some way through it.

Read on at Los Angeles Review of Books.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 by Harriet Staff.