The Holloway Poetry Series began its Spring program with Dawn Lundy Martin on Tuesday, January 29th, who was brought to campus in collaboration with the Mixed Blood Project. Dawn’s reading also marked the release of the third iteration of the Mixed Blood journal which includes work from a range of experimental writers working at the intersections of race and aesthetic form.
Dawn was preceded by graduate student poet, Hugo Garcia Manriquez, who recently began a Ph.D. program in the Spanish and Portugese department at UC Berkeley. Before coming to Berkeley, Hugo had done much critical work as a poet and translator, including the recent translation of William Carlos Williams’s Paterson into Spanish. His poems dealt deftly with issues of materiality, pedagogy, and memory. In a note which interrupted the succession of poems, Hugo presented a critical commentary on the relationship between race and experimentation. Hugo commented that writers of color are often viewed as “informants” and ethnographic objects, such that poets are asked to teach and remember their otherness for audiences. Difficulty, he remarked, upsets the anthropological imagination, and he called on writers of color to demand the right to obscurity, as Edouard Glissant once wrote. He finished with a poem composed by erasing portions of the Humboldt Agreement which established “free market terms” for exchanges between Canada, U.S.A., and Mexico.
Dawn Lundy Martin got up to read next and delivered a selection from new and old material, including work from her first book, A Gathering of Matter / a Matter of Gathering, which won the Cave Canem prize in 2007. From the outset, her poems staged a difficult balance between desire and violence and the way we recognize ourselves through both. The subjects and objects of her poems were constantly under threat of being undressed or erased. Acts of resistance and love were suspended between will and compulsion, decision and discipline in order to think through the complicated ways in which we interact and identify with bodies. As graduate student poet and introducer, Samia Rahimtoola, described, Dawn’s poems begin in “territories adjacent to speaking.” They struggle through the difficulties of translating historical, personal, and community experiences into things that can be seen, encountered, or refused. The second half of the reading focused mostly on more recent prose poems from Discipline (selected for the Nightboat Poetry Prize by Fanny Howe in 2011) an upcoming new collection in which excessive portrayals of the black body, constantly spilling out, were set against the immobile and impossibly androgynous features of Tilda Swinton. As Dawn joked near the end of her reading, “life in a box can be pretty,” but her poems show that beauty bears with it a complicated backstory in which the difference between what we are choosing for ourselves and what is happening to us is not always clear.
Posted by Jeffrey Blevins