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...

(The entire section is 547 words.)