“Documentary poetry”?? “Documentary” connotes dry – or maybe didactic; something dated and best left to newspapers, history books, pamphlets, film. “Poetry” is the expression of personal emotion; language raised to a sublime and exquisite delicacy; mellifluous statements of universal truths. . . . Right?
Well . . . some poets did not receive the memo, because they insist on writing poems that relate non-fiction narratives – and that often quote things like newspapers and pamphlets in the process. It is a poetry that represents historical “facts” (personal or collective). Sometimes it stretches the boundaries of poetry and questions the meaning of document(ary), emphasizing documents as texts and poems as historical documents.
But what does it mean to relate history in the form of a poem? And when one does so, how does our understanding of history change? What are the limits of a poetics of fact? We will approach these questions by reading and writing about “docu-poems” by Muriel Rukeyser, William Carlos Williams, Susan M. Schultz, Bhanu Kapil, C.S. Giscombe, and others. You will also research, write, and reflect upon your own “documentary poem” – always with an awareness of your presence as author of the history you are writing.