“Jerome Rothenberg’s Ethnopoetics and Other Migrations into English: Indigenous, Immigrant, and Multilingual American Poetry” — A Free Eight-Week Online Course

(full course description below – just scroll down)

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Starting Feb 8, I’m going to be teaching an 8-week free online class that anyone with access to the internet can take: ***Indigenous, Immigrant, and Multilingual American Poetry (primarily) in English***  It’s one of the off-season class offerings for Modern and American Poetry (ModPo) https://modpo.org. Come read and discuss a selection of poems that do not take the English language for granted. You can just log into the course a few times, for a few weeks, just once, or participate for the full duration. I’d love to see you there. If you want to log in before the official start date, post a hello in the forum!

But first – even if you aren’t ready to commit ———

*****Email modpo@writing.upenn.edu to be added to the course email list*****

Then, to enroll in the course, click here to be directed to the course forum page. https://bit.ly/2tCmMHi Feel free to log in before the official start date and post a hello in the forum!

If you are not yet a member of Coursera, you’ll need to sign up and register first. It’s entirely free to do so. https://www.coursera.org If you can’t get to the course home page, let me know and I’ll give you a map.

If you have any questions or concerns whatsoever, get in touch with me at jasonzuzga@gmail.com.

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«Jerome Rothenberg’s Ethnopoetics and Other Migrations into English:  Indigenous, Immigrant and Multilingual American Poetry»

This “SloPo” class will focus on non-European traditions and emergent American poetries with complicated, relationships with English, both the generative and the uneasy. First, we will read a few excerpts from Jerome Rothenberg’s American Indian Poetry anthology, SHAKING THE PUMPKIN, (discussed at this link with examples:) https://bit.ly/2T5TrPz. We will interrogate Rothenberg’s concept of “ethnopoetics” (here’s a link to a definition:) https://bit.ly/2QFuVU1. We will discuss and debate the ethical obligations of the practitioner of ethnopoetics and the range of ethical and aesthetic quandaries that must be negotiated with when translating from an indigenous tongue into English.

Together, we, as readers of selections from SHAKING THE PUMPKIN, will encounter the translations as printed texts. We can and should read and discuss them as complex poems of merit and formal invention, teeming with 1)a spectrum of profound, humble, and witty engagement in stylized language with the natural world, 2) gorgeous storytelling, 3) powerful shamanic invocations, and 4) strictly formal rule-bound group ceremonial chants, these modes found in the book among so many other formal modes.

The poems as presented depend on their migration into the genocidal conqueror’s English, indelibly printed on paper in subjectively chosen arrangements–radically departing, as consequence, from poetry transmitted orally and often performed—-into a materialized and thus form frozen singularly in time. The poems originated in orally transmitted languages with internally coherent vocabularies and structural organization through their own rules of grammar. The poems exist, in this anthology, in the printed word, a form radically distinct from oral transmission and place-based, dance-based ceremonial performance. How do these translations address their own condition? Rothenberg calls his process “total translation” – a process which accounts not only for the words but for the full constellation of movements, non-meaning bearing sounds, and crowd participation in a performance — this creates, as we will see, some challengingly non-linear arrangements of text to convey not only the “words” themselves but provoke the reader to think about the overall performance.

We will continue with contemporary poems inextricable from multilingual, multicultural lives and histories: those of the colonized indigenous peoples, those of descendants of the ancestrally transported and enslaved, those of the immigrants who (by aspiration and/or desperation) sever themselves from home for an elsewhere.

Here we find Gloria Anzaldúa’s poetry of “Mesitza consciousness,” summoned into being to counter her exclusion from settling into any identity rooted in a distinct community. “Mesitza consciousness” becomes a point of view to hold with pride, harnessing the simultaneously clashing demands of the asynchronous cultures that surround her, a triple heritage: indigenous, Spanish, and English.

We will read from Inuit poet dg nanouk okpik’s astounding not-to-be-missed multilingual book CORPSE WHALE. In okpik’s poems, we are accompanying hunted narwal’s body hauled by kayak through a ice-slush sea to shore, we are noticing the appearance of new oil pipes and ice tractors, we are occasionally enfolded in shamanic ritual and incantations. In these poems, the speaker’s labors and observations are not anchored to the clock-bound moment but are woven within the span of generations—millennia of continuous local habitation with unchanging annually performed methods and tools for gathering and preserving sustenance from land and sea, though cracks in that ongoing time have begun to appear.

We will read, listen to, and watch poetries from the post-colonization Caribbean, such as M. NourbeSe Philip’s “Discourse on the Logic of Language,” an enactment of Imperial English’s enforced imposition on the population in her native Trinidad and Tobago. From Jamaica, we will sample Kamau Brathwaite’s HISTORY OF THE VOICE and read along as we watch Louise Bennett-Coverley’s beloved performances of poems in Jamaican patois.

We will consider American immigrant poetries of East and South Asia engaged in the assemblage of complex and emergent poetics and identities, reading Divya Victor’s “W is for Whitman” and trying our hand, for example, at the traditional Arabic ghazal form popularized in the United States in English by the Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali in order to experience the effects of the aesthetic forces at play in a centuries-old non-Western form with its own strict and perhaps disorienting rules.

Other poets from among whose poems we may read: Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, Gloria Anzaldúa, dg nanouk okpik, Heriberto Yépez, Nathaniel Mackey, Fred Moten, Morgan Parker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Claude McKay, Ocean Vuong, Craig Santos Perez, Monica Youn, Arthur Sze, Tommy Pico, Myung Mi Kim, Eduardo Corral, Jericho Brown, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Douglas Kearney, Cecilia Vicuña, Franny Choi, Sawaka Nakyasu, James Thomas Stevens, Safia Sinclair, Anne Tardos, Mark Nowak, Layli Long Soldier, Zeina Hashem, Natalie Scenters-Zapico, Mahealani Perez-Wendt, Li-Young Li, Brandy Nālani McDougall, Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Divya Victor, and Lillian Allen.

Here’s a poem we will be discussing by Craig Santos Perez, who traces his ancestry deep into the history of the island of Guam:

Craig Santos Perez

ECL (English as a Colonial Language, an abecedarian)

American authorities


Chamoru language to manifest

destiny :

English enforced at the empire’s

frontier of “freedom.”

Guåhan means “we

have,” but what is home-

island if silenced by the violent

jingoism of an unjust

klepto-settler state—if

language is stolen from our living

mouths &

nouns reduced to nothing—if

oceanic throats &

pasifika palates are pacified,

quiet like i halom tano’

ravaged by brown tree

snakes who swallowed i

totot, sihek, åga…

until ancestral

vowels & consonants, once avian

wild, now


yielding to the colonial

zoo of endangered tongues.

There exists such a rich array of poetries and poets to potentially include. Instead, the course will contain only a small sampling of contemporary work in English being created in North America, the U.S. Pacific Islands, and the anglophone Caribbean. Each selection, from some angle, engages with the poetics of multilingualism and cultural collisions where conventional English cannot be taken for granted as neutral. The English language evokes its own history and summons questions of identity, selfhood, and voice to be played with and against in the crafting of the poem. I want this course to teach you to be aware of English in all its appearances and to think of the use of Conventional English in the composition of a poem as a constraint, a choice, not only in these poems, but in any poem written in English.

All languages contain the content of their own histories of transmission, their peculiar grammars, their available pronouns, its use a mark of the speaker’s status, as well as such matters as to whether a particular language dominates global communication or whether it is nearly extinct with only four elderly speakers left alive. The use of a particular language –1) in its conventional form, in a particular dialect, or some invented variant and 2) any inclusion within the poem of juxtaposed segments from a different language–impacts the poem in its constellations of dynamic networks of content and form, as does a line break, a bold use of figurative language, an ambiguous use of a word, a particular patterning of sounds. Aspects of form and content generate frictions and fields of complex forces and tones, co-present and mutually influencing fields of expanding meaning and resonance. We will be closely and collaboratively reading the interrelations between a poem’s form, content, and language(s).

Everyone is welcome to join in with any level of expertise. We will be collaboratively learning through discussing the materials together, posing questions and responses and responses to responses and taking things in all different directions as each reader reflects on their own experience of the poem and we start adding them all together. All topics, all responses and questions and frustrations and speculations should go into the forum. You don’t have to address anything set out in this description and take things in a different direction for any poem on the table. You never know what is going to provoke and compel another student. Everything is fair game.

We’ll just be looking at several poems a week and a bit of supplementary prose to provide context. It’s up to you, just as it was in ModPo in the Fall, to realistically budget how much time you can dedicate to the course. With a glance through what’s on tap each week, decide which materials you think you’ll most enjoy and also what intrigues you the most, then focus accordingly based on available time. I will indicate each week the “required” works (a manageable limited amount, the essentials). I’d like everyone to do their best to try and read and post about these. I’ll also be including actively available “recommended” works for people who have the time and inclination to read more – the Plus stuff. Discussions in the forums will be dedicated to the “required” materials. Of course, supplemental threads can also be created to discuss any of the “recommended” material, but, again, you should feel no pressure as the recommended work is entirely optional, and there’s no rush — work at your own pace — discussions across weeks will all be ongoing. All the materials will remain available to you throughout the duration and after the class ends. (I will load a bunch to my website in case the SloPo section goes dormant later on.)

I’ll do my best to provide adequate context to the work through introductions each week. I will be available for extensive office hours — and you can contact me during office hours (email and forum posts ok anytime) by posting to the class forum, emailing me, skyping, or meeting up in google hangouts.


*****Email modpo@writing.upenn.edu to be added to the course email list*****

Then, to enroll in the course, click here to be directed to the course forum page. https://www.coursera.org/…/di…/forums/iCsIqhqsEeqbLApqc4FOKQ

If you are not yet a member of Coursera, you’ll need to sign up and register first. It’s entirely free to do so. https://www.coursera.org If you can’t get to the course home page, let me know and I’ll give you a map.

If you have any questions or concerns whatsoever, get in touch with me at jasonzuzga@gmail.com.