Malekghassemi – Assignment B (2) – Critical Article Review

Isun Malekghassemi / Dr. Mara Scanlon / ENGL 458 / 18 April 2013

The Separation of Lyric from Long Poem for the Sake of Theory

            In “Jorie Graham’s Subversive Poetics: Appetites of Mind, Empire-building, and the Spaces of Lyric Performativity,” Mary S. Strine analyzes the final lyric in Jorie Graham’s The End of Beauty “Imperialism” using postcolonial theory. Strine has a Ph.D. in Speech Communication from the University of Mary Washington (’72) and currently teaches Communication at the University of Utah. She has nine graduate students working on their Doctor of Philosophy dissertations under her. Strine separates her article into three distinct sections. Before I get to those sections though, I want to speak to Strine’s suggestion that Graham wants to

Sustain the self-knowledge and insights gained through imaginative engagement with the material world in accord with the romantic view of poetic language, while … de-center[ing] those insights so as to critically reveal their political entailments in relations of power and knowledge in accord with postcolonial thought. (4)

I have to say that this is problematic for me. I can believe that Graham wants to “sustain” modernist thought using romantic language while “de-center”-ing the insights one gains from doing that. I can believe that Graham reflects on power. But I can hardly believe that Graham’s intentions for The End of Beauty as a whole have much to do with political anything. This reminds me of our class discussion on whether a long poem can be read as separate lyrics, and the lyrics still maintain their integrity. In this case, Strine takes “Imperialism” out of context. I am not surprised. Most of her publications focus on cultural and intercultural texts, and performativity; of course “Imperialism” would attract her.

Strine begins “Poetic Language and the Epistemic Grounds of Lyric Encounter,” her first section, by explaining that postcolonial theorists analyze language in regard to “mastery and control over others” (4). She hones in on the theorist Edward Said’s books Orientalism (1978) and Culture and Imperialism (1993) to elaborate on postcolonial theory. Strine argues that Graham uses postcolonial theory to portray the struggle of power between different perceptions of selfhood – one of internal language requiring translation for the external world and one of understanding between the two using language.  Strine has still failed to convince me that “Imperialism” represents how one can attain much from reading The End of Beauty in a postcolonial fashion. I do agree that Graham does use language indicating a struggle between two ideas.

A bolded “Poetic Form, Lyric Performativity, and the Postcolonial Imperative” marks Strine’s next section, in which she suggests that Graham exemplifies postcolonial language in “her discussion of the challenges and possibilities of the poetic form” (6). Strine argues that Graham desires to master language to create closure while also wanting to use her poetry as a forum for discourse. The difficulty in aligning these is visible in “Imperialism,” Strine claims, saying that Graham at once invites openness to, and commands control of, meaning and new experiences. Strine states that Graham’s “poetic epistemology… relies on the processes of lyric performativity to advance and deepen her own and her reader’s experiential understanding of self and other and the interpenetrating worlds they share” (10). Strine is forcing a reading of “Imperialism” and Graham that is not fruitful. Yes, there is conflict in Graham’s writing – but if that indicates postcolonialism, then is every conflict of power actually postcolonial at its core? This is more a close reading of one of modernism’s main goals: to form a link between to opposing things, to try and fix something that feels unhinged. Graham is not creating a dogfight between ideas; she is attempting to reconcile of two seemingly dichotomous things, mastery and free discussion.

Strine’s ultimate section “Reader Positionality, Lyric Performativity, and the Public World” deals with the audience’s role in Graham’s poetry. Strine states that Graham is sensitive to the role that her readers play as an audience and that Graham uses this to “[inform] the forward motion of her poetry” (10). Strine argues that by speaking directly to her readers in her poetry, Graham entices her reader into actively participating so that they can complete her poetry. To conclude this section, Strine says that Graham’s performativity encourages her audience to include their experience in their reading while also creating an environment where readers can become aware of “the construction of self and society” (12). This section, I can get behind. Graham clearly desires an active reader for her lyrics – I believe the blanks, questions, and the breaking of the poetic wall demonstrate this. This is not directly related to her thesis, but Strine also quotes Graham’s editorial introduction of The Best American Poetry 1990 right before her final paragraph. String quotes the section in which Graham says poetry has this role of renewing language for each generation.

To conclude, Strine reiterates that Graham’s “subversive lyrics, exemplified in ‘Imperialism’” nurtures a forum for discussion of “fresh ways [to know] self and world, [and] self and other” (12). From Strine’s abstract, I was expecting more on the acts of knowing and naming in Graham. The article is not uninteresting, but I cannot use it to relate to our class discussion except for the fact that Strine separates a lyric from its home long poem to analyze it; this is a practice I disapprove of. I expected my mind to be blown from this article, and it was not. [881]

Strine, Mary S. “Jorie Graham’s Subversive Poetics: Appetites of Mind, Empire-building, and the Spaces of Lyric Performativity.” Text and Performance Quarterly 25.1 (January 2005): 3-13.

(Note: I read it from a PDF file, thus the print MLA citation. I found this article on Humanities International Complete if anybody wanted to know!)

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