Local History Essay - Critical Essays

Erica Hunt

Critical Context

Hunt’s use of indeterminate singular pronouns is not unique to her. The language writing movement used similar procedures to critique the notion of the integrity of the self, specifically its conflation with the first-person singular pronoun. A similar strategy can also be found in the work of Zora Neale Hurston; her particular mode of stream of consciousness, often called “free indirect discourse,” operates to meld what is often the delimited knowledge of third-person (singular or plural) narratees with the unlimited knowledge of a narrator posited as numberless. Hurston makes explicit what is already implicit in the general representation of omniscient, objective narrators: No such nominally objective representation can operate without implicitly, if not explicitly, taking a position, taking sides.

Hunt’s experimental poetry differentiates her from the more mainstream branch of African American poetic practice. Insofar as a great deal of contemporary mainstream African American poetry by women functions within the norms of a putative “black” cultural tradition, Hunt’s engagement with the experimental tradition of language writing can be read as pre-African American in relation to a relatively young generation of women poets such as Tracy K. Smith and Natasha Trethewey and as non-black in relation to an older generation of poets such as Lucille Clifton and Rita Dove. The work of these poets from two different generations deploys similar, normative poetic procedures in which Hunt does not participate. (The terms “black” and “African American” name both generations and modes of poetic production.) However, insofar as Hunt’s writing recalls and engages the “experimental” wing of the Black Arts movement (for example, the early work of Sonia Sanchez), it cannot be severed from a black literary tradition. Inasmuch as it engages, as well, the Symbolist and Surrealist predecessors of and tendencies within the language writing school, Hunt’s poetry also cannot be severed from an important sector of international post-romantic poetics.