The Poetry

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In Local History, Erica Hunt engages the problem of gender and number in language by deploying the first person singular and plural in indeterminate linguistic contexts. The photograph on the book’s back cover, positioned right beneath blurbs from “language writing” poets Harryette Mullen, Charles Bernstein, and Ann Lauterbach, identifies Erica Hunt as a black woman. Still, given the multiple lineages of this work, it is difficult to find or surmise a referent for the “we” in the opening section entitled “Preface.” In fact, each permutation of the “we” appears to refer to different constituencies: a couple, friends, women, experimental writers, black people in general, and so on.

One might respond that, while such indeterminacy might hold for the multiple “we’s” in “Preface,” such is not the case for the “I” that opens the poem and the book: “I was thinking that if the ceiling were mirrored we would have to watch what we say about what we feel.” Regardless of how one interprets this playful but serious commentary on the indicative and the subjunctive, on the relations between standard and colloquial expressions, the “I” appears normative in its self-referential function. In fact, it is normative, a function reinforced in the other syntactical contexts in which it appears in “Preface.” However, since this same grammatical function appears in the next two poems, “Voice I” and “Second Voice,” it...

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Local History Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Cummings, Alison. “Public Subjects: Race and the Critical Reception of Gwendolyn Brooks, Erica Hunt, and Harryette Mullen.” Frontiers 26, no. 2 (2005): 3-36. Analyzes the trajectory of African American women poets’ writing, from the traditional narratives and lyrics of Brooks to the avant-garde strategies of Mullen. Sees Hunt as a link between the two, rendering her virtually invisible to critics. Also attributes this invisibility to the paucity of Hunt’s output and her mixture of “speculative” (abstract and innovative) and “liberatory” (political and linear) writing.

Hunt, Erica. “Notes for an Oppositional Poetics.” In The Politics of Poetic Form, edited by Charles Bernstein. New York: Roof Books, 1990. Hunt discusses the construction of what she calls “oppositional cultures” as defensive survival strategies in relation to predominant cultures. She then draws an analogy between this relationship and that which obtains between traditional and innovative writing practices, but she notes that the deployment of traditional narratives by marginalized cultures cannot be sacrificed in the name of the avant-garde alone, since it too participates, in part, in cultural dominance. She concludes the essay with two “test” cases: Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz.

Hunt, Erica. “The World Is Not Precisely Round: Piecing Commotion (on Writing and Motherhood).” In The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood, edited by Patricia Diensfrey and Brenda Hillman. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2003. Hunt examines the multifaceted selves that comprise her identity, using motherhood and writing to refute the binary opposition often presumed between the domestic and public realms of experience.

Kinnahan, Linda A. “’Our Visible Selves’: Visual-Verbal Collaborations in Erica Hunt, Alison Saar, and M. Nourbese Phillip.” In Lyric Interventions: Feminism, Experimental Poetry, and Contemporary Discourse. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2004. Focusing largely on the art-book collaboration between artist Alison Saar and poet Erica Hunt, Kinnahan emphasizes the problematic centrality of the African American body in their prose, poems, and woodcuts. Kinnahan demonstrates how both Saar and Hunt work to displace received ideas concerning the “reading” or interpretation of the body in public and private realms, a theme that resonates with Hunt’s work in general.

Mullen, Harryette. “Books: Poetry Collections.” Antioch Review 56, no. 2 (Spring, 1998): 44-45. Includes a brief review of the Alison Saar-Erica Hunt collaboration. Mullen notes the importance of the body for both Saar and Hunt.