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9. Hearing a New Musical Instrument: Harryette Mullen’s Critical Lyricism

MANSELL, Lisa (2013) 9. Hearing a New Musical Instrument: Harryette Mullen’s Critical Lyricism. In: ABlaze with Poetic Fire: Black Poetry, Black Music. Ashgate, Burlington VT. (In Press)

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Michael Palmer said that “reading Harryette Mullen is like hearing a new musical instrument,” and indeed, what is most striking about her poetic work is a bold, diverse innovation drawing from, simultaneously, jazz, blues, hip-hop, soul, classical, avant-garde atonaltites. Mullen is a virtuosic, textured hybridist whose work evolves beyond binaries of black influence versus white influence and into a more complex arena of post-genre, and perhaps even the post-national—a blended space of identification. This duality is also refelcted in the capacity for Mullen's text to cross borders of media in startling blends of verbal/sonic art and poetics which negotiate our critical and philosophical ideology towards multiplicity, fragmentation, and the plural. My own practice-led research is in the field of experimental poetry which crosses media boundaries (sonic/visual/graphic) in a manner that perhaps makes my research more at home in the broad-based media environment of fine art than in the more academically defined category of English Literature, and I suggest too that Mullen's text is best viewed though this wide lens which accommodates mergers of poetry and sonic art.

Mullen's text blends the borders of prior defined media by transliterating music into language. The evolution of Hip-hop as an isolation of funk-beats that are then repeated, or funk’s isolating of rhythmical syncopation and bass-beats to privilege them over lyric and traditional melody are examples of Mullen's deconstruction and a development of this ‘isolate-then-blend’ progression. Her long poem, Muse and Drudge, is also a transliteration of blues music notation and a verbal performance of harmonic progressions in language.

Black Music, Black poetry is a forthcoming title from Ashgate which “links a diverse body of writing to a black musical tradition, Black Music, Black Poetry offers readers a fuller appreciation of the diversity of approaches to reading black American poetry. The contributors take up the issues of black cultural authenticity, musical imitation and performance, and the influence of black music on poetic practice as they relate familiar figures such as Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes and lesser known writers like James Emanuel.” This book supports Ashgate’s research interest in Black writing, heritage and performance and follows examples such as Ramey. 2008, The Heritage Series of Black Poetry, 1962-1975. By publishing my research on Black diasporic avant-garde poetry with Ashgate, I am directing my writing to a wide, but also specific audience of researchers who understand that Ashgate publish a number of books on this particular topic.

Dr. Gordon Thompson, is an Associate Professor, English, American and African American Studies, City College of New York and Director of the Black Studies Program, City College of New York, Director of the Langston Hughes Festival, City College of New York, and Director of RAP-SI (Retention, Achievement, Professionalism Success Institute), program of the Black Male Initiative, CUNY. His Recent publications include
The Assimiliationist Impulse in Four African American Narratives, (Edwin Mellen Press, 2011) and Five chapters in: Black American: A State-by-State Historical Encyclopedia, edited by Alton Hornsby, Jr (ABC-CLIO Imprint, 2011)

Item Type: Book Chapter, Section or Conference Proceeding
Faculty: Previous Faculty of Arts and Creative Technologies > Journalism, Humanities and Social Sciences
Depositing User: Lisa MANSELL
Date Deposited: 10 May 2013 10:32
Last Modified: 10 May 2013 10:32

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