Indigenous, Immigrant, and Multilingual American Poetry February 8 – April 4 2020

A course I am offering through Modern & Contemporary Poetry (“ModPo”):

Please email to express your interest, to be added to the course email list, and thus stay up-to-date about what work we are reading, special guests, what discussions are underway, and further news about the class. Please do, even if you are still figuring out whether to take the class and how much time you can spend. You are welcome to visit as you are able.

Each poem we will read over this eight-week-long course rings with its own beauty, engages the mind through its juxtapositions and complex poetics: love poems, ceremonial poems, poems about connection to the earth, poems exploring the possibilities of selfhood, joyful and mournful invocations of ancestry. We will begin by close reading poems gathered from orally transmitted languages and translated into printed English from the essential anthology SHAKING THE PUMPKIN:  Traditional Poems of the Indian North Americans, edited by Jerome Rothenberg: among them we will encounter Rothenberg’s textual experiments in rendering ceremonial performance. After that, we leave translation behind. The recent and contemporary poems we will read during the following weeks are all written in English or variants of it by indigenous, immigrant, and multilingual poets, in which the use of English has its own connotations and effects as a formal feature of the poem, something to discuss in our close readings. We will read contemporary work by poets from different American indigenous tribes–Inuit, Mohawk, Kumeyaay, Navaho–and from poets rooted in different American locations–Hawaii and Guam. We will read, listen to, and watch poetries from the post-slavery, post-colonization Caribbean, such as M. NourbeSe Philip’s poem “Discourse on the Logic of Language,” and watch and listen to Louise Bennett-Coverley’s beloved performances of poems in Jamaican patois. We will consider poems written by African-American descendants of slaves transported by force. We will read poems written by first and second-generation immigrant poets: Asian-American, South-Asian-American, Middle-Eastern-American and Latin-American–for whom English may not be a first language or the one spoken at home. We will consider the ways in which these poems engage, generate conflict, and play with language conventions as a means of negotiation, transformation, creation of voice and identity. At the same time, we can discuss and debate how much you think a poet’s assigned identity with a particular category and a poet’s biography should contribute to our reading in general. Debate is welcome. You will have the option of writing a poem in a poetic form, the ghazal, popularized in the United States and written in English by the Kashmiri immigrant poet Agha Shahid Ali – a series of couplets ending on the same word, with the name of the poet included in the final stanza and getting substantial feedback. We will read poems as active sites of resistance and emergence and hopefully you will, when reading any poem, not take English for granted.

Please email to express your interest and get on the course news email list, which I’ll be relying on to convey important course news and information. There will be weekly introductions to the material and extensive office hours on several days a week in which I’ll be available live for discussion.

Before February 8, please stop by the course’s dedicated area on the ModPo website and just say hello; feel free to offer any introduction to yourself and/or your thoughts about the course! Starting on February 8, that’s also where you will go to access the Week One material and find the audio introduction to the week (also available as text) and the discussion forums. The link to the course’s homebase is

If you aren’t registered with Coursera, you’ll need to do so to enter the course.


Below is a varied sampling of poems and other material that may be included. Some may, some may not be, as the final syllabus is still in progress — but a stroll through should give you an idea of some of the range of poetry we’ll be reading and prepare you for what’s to come.


from SHAKING THE PUMPKIN ed. Jerome Rothenberg

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from SHAKING THE PUMPKIN ed. Jerome Rothenberg

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Jerome Rothenberg: “Total Translation: An Experiment in the Translation of American Indian Poetry.” .]


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From HACHA  by Craig Santos Perez

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From THE ANTS by Sawako Nakayasu

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from  THE FORTIETH DAY by Kazim Ali

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From UNDER FLAG by Myung Mi Kim

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from CORPSE WHALE by dg nanouk okpik

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From NATURE POEM by Tommy Pico

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From SLOW LIGHTNING by Eduardo Corrral

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from WHEREAS by Layli Long Soldier

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From SPLAY ANTHEM by Nathaniel Mackey

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A few links:

Louise Bennett-Coverley


Nathaniel Mackey


from SISTA TONGUE by Lisa Linn Kinae

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