Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reginald Harris, Autogeography, and playing across the page

As it turns out, relatively few of the poets who've been in my regular rotation -- Elizabeth Alexander, Lucille Clifton, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Tyehimba Jess, Allison Joseph, Margaret Walker, and Kevin Young -- play around with the arrangements of words on the page. Mostly, the poets I read tend to have their words aligned to the left. Of course, there's Evie Shockley who does stretch out, but at times, I'm surprised I haven't identified and highlighted more.

Well now, I'm adding Reginald Harris to the mix. His book Autogeography (2013) has several poems, including "Eastside Alphabetics," "Song for My Father," "While the Quartet Plays 'Body and Soul,'" "Notes Toward a poem About Love," "No Admittance," "Travel Journal," "The Secrets of Our Success," "The City Without You," and others, that take me away from my typical comfort zones, prompting me to move my eyes and trace my finger across the pages.

Here are a few lines from "Song for My Father:"
We turn up the same tunes
        on the radio          nod to the same beats
            scat the solos           wake the sleeping van
                                  with our duet
On the one hand, those spaces connote silences and pauses between words, and they allow for some time to reflect on what was said, written. At the same time, there's something about seeing (and then later for me re-presenting) the words occupying more space on the page like that.

For some time now, I've thought about wordplay in poems by Hughes, Amiri Baraka, and Young. But now, reading and paying attention to the look or aesthetics of poems on the page by Shockley and Harris, I'm inclined to think more about design-play or arrangement-play or something along those lines to signal what's being done as the poets take these intricate and design-conscious approaches to poem layout. Obviously, Shockley and Harris are not the first and only poets to take such approaches; they are just the first ones in my small and personal universe of poetry that I've been working up the abilities to write about here.  So we'll see what happens moving forward.

In the meantime, I'll keep tracing Harris's movements across the page, trying to figure out where he's leading us.

Some volumes of poetry published in 2013 
12 Years Earlier: From Reginald Harris's Autogeography to 10 Tongues 

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