Any Lit

HARRYETTE MULLEN

Any Lit HARRYETTE MULLEN

Any Lit HARRYETTE MULLEN

Any Lit
BY HARRYETTE MULLEN
You are a ukulele beyond my microphone
You are a Yukon beyond my Micronesia
You are a union beyond my meiosis
You are a unicycle beyond my migration
You are a universe beyond my mitochondria
You are a Eucharist beyond my Miles Davis
You are a euphony beyond my myocardiogram
You are a unicorn beyond my Minotaur
You are a eureka beyond my maitai
You are a Yuletide beyond my minesweeper
You are a euphemism beyond my myna bird
You are a unit beyond my mileage
You are a Yugoslavia beyond my mind’s eye
You are a yoo-hoo beyond my minor key
You are a Euripides beyond my mime troupe
You are a Utah beyond my microcosm
You are a Uranus beyond my Miami
You are a youth beyond my mylar
You are a euphoria beyond my myalgia
You are a Ukranian beyond my Maimonides
You are a Euclid beyond my miter box
You are a Univac beyond my minus sign
You are a Eurydice beyond my maestro
You are a eugenics beyond my Mayan
You are a U-boat beyond my mind control
You are a euthanasia beyond my miasma
You are a urethra beyond my Mysore
You are a Euterpe beyond my Mighty Sparrow
You are a ubiquity beyond my minority
You are a eunuch beyond my migraine
You are a Eurodollar beyond my miserliness
You are a urinal beyond my Midol
You are a uselessness beyond my myopia

“I regret to say I’m
unable to reply to your unexpressed desires.”
― Harryette Mullen

“Poetry is language playing with itself.”
― Harryette Mullen

Even in my dreams I’m hiking
these mountain trails expecting to find a rock
that nature has shaped to remind me of a heart.”
― Harryette Mullen

The spirit of tanka interests me more than following rigid conventions. As I understand it, the tradition allows a variety of approaches, from simple description and heartfelt expression to classical allusion and evocative wordplay. Succeeding generations rediscover and renew the form so that it retains its vitality.

Harryette Mullen

The spirit of tanka interests me more than following rigid conventions. As I understand it, the tradition allows a variety of approaches, from simple description and heartfelt expression to classical allusion and evocative wordplay. Succeeding generations rediscover and renew the form so that it retains its vitality.

Harryette Mullen

I’ll be emotionally disturbed for as long as it takes

Harryette Mullen

Any Lit

HARRYETTE MULLEN

Any Lit HARRYETTE MULLEN

Critical essays and books

“Runaway Tongue: Resistant Orality in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Our Nig, and Beloved”, The Culture of Sentiment, 1992

“Optic White: Blackness and the Production of Whiteness”, Diacritics, 1994; reprinted in Cultural and Literary Critiques of the Concept of ‘Race’, 1997

“‘A Silence Between Us Like a Language’: The Untranslatability of Experience in Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek”, MELUS Journal, 1996

“Incessant Elusives: the Oppositional Poetics of Erica Hunt and Will Alexander,” “Holding their Own: Perspectives on the Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the United States”, 2000.

“African Signs and Spirit Writing”, Callaloo, 1996; reprinted in African American Literary Theory: A Reader, 2000, and The Black Studies Reader, 2004

“‘Apple Pie with Oreo Crust’: Fran Ross’s Recipe for an Idiosyncratic American Novel”, MELUS Journal, 2002

“‘Artistic Expression was Flowing Everywhere’: Alison Mills and Ntozake Shange, Black Bohemian Feminists in the 1970s”, Meridians, 2004

The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed To Be: Essays and Interviews (University of Alabama Press), 2012

Mullen recalls on the different languages that she learned as a child as opposed to those around her. When one hears the term different languages one thinks of languages that are spoken in other far away foreign places, yet Mullen is discussing the different types of English that are spoken in her community.

The English she grew up learning was considered to be the “Standard English,” which is summed up as the proper way of speaking English, the one that will make black people more approachable in a nice part of town, the English that will make a person of color employable.

The black vernacular is considered to be incorrect, and if people only spoke this vernacular they would be considered uneducated.

This did not sit well with Mullen because she wanted black children to understand that being black and educated were not mutually exclusive terms.

Mullen says that she does not believe that certain vernaculars are particularly educated or uneducated; society has however decided for them that there is a right way of speaking and a wrong way.

Since I’m going to be very busy the rest of this week (cf. the next post), I need to be more concise with these introductions, and so today I’ve selected a poem that requires the reader do a bit of the heavy lifting, though it really isn’t that tough–though the poem is “heavy,” in the sense that people of my father’s (50s and 60s) generation used to use that term, which is to say, complex and profound. The poem is “Any Lit,” and the poet is one of my favorites, Harryette Mullen (1953-). She once gave me and everyone else in the poetry workshop she was teaching an excellent bit of advice, which was: instead of waiting for the right time to write, to devote even a tiny sliver of each day towards writing a poem–or writing anything–and so by the end of every week, every month, every year, you’d have something before you. It’s not always so easy to do, but it does work!

Harryette_Mullen

Harryette has published seven books of poetry, and I first learned about her work from members of the Dark Room Writers Collective, who had come across her second, highly innovative book, Trimmings (1991), which formally riffs off the work of an experimental predecessor, Gertrude Stein, suffusing Steinian language with even more play, eros and soul.

Harryette was on her way, and the poem, a quintessential example of her work over the last few years, below demonstrates her playfulness, wit and humor, but also her rigor. It utilizes formal constraints but in a different way than rhetoricians urging a close study of Quintilian or Oulipo poets wielding n+7 techniques by combining many of the rules, which is to say, mechanisms of possibility, of the two.

So there is the rhetorical device of the anaphora that launches each line, and the epistrophic repetition of the final word beginning with “m,” with the constraint that the fourth word in each line has to possess the initial sound “u,” as in “yew,” followed by the words “beyond my.”

The regularity creates anticipation as you read and listen, since you have a sense of what’s coming but you are continually surprised. Then there is the issue of these metaphorical comparisons in analogical relation, creating their own logic line by line, but then collectively creating a logic (or illogic), that feels like an apt figure for literature or, more specifically poetry.

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