Lyric Crossings: Decoloniality in Contemporary Latinx Poetry

Foote, Rebecca, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Ramazani, Jahan, AS-English (ENGL), University of Virginia
Lamas, Carmen, AS-English (ENGL), University of Virginia
Brickhouse, Anna, AS-English (ENGL), University of Virginia

In recent decades, scholars of Latinx literature have approached politics primarily through narrative and prose texts, such as the novel, essay, and short story. Considering that poetry has been crucial in galvanizing Latinx political movements from the nineteenth century through the present, its relative scarcity in scholarship is puzzling. Further, it remains to be seen what attending to the politics of poetic form within contemporary Latinx poetry reveals about constructions of Latinidad. I propose poetic thought as the mode through which to theorize the open-ended and unfinished term “Latinx.” My dissertation, “Lyric Crossings,” contends that contemporary Latinx poetry, although marginalized in Latinx literary studies, should be central to the field given the genre’s special capacity for recuperating histories of Indigeneity, Blackness, and transness long erased in Latinx communities.
The poetry collections I study consider the limits and possibilities of the term “Latinx” through the Indigenous, Black, and trans subjectivities that they center. Chapter 1, “Vexed in Space,” explores Critical Latinx Indigeneities in Museum of the Americas by J. Michael Martinez, Knitting the Fog by Claudia Hernández, and When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz. The chapter shows how the spatiality of Indigeneity grafted onto lyric form reimagines the hemisphere. Chapter 2, “Through an Opening,” turns to Aracelis Girmay’s The Black Maria, Raina J. León’s Profeta without Refuge, and Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X to contend that transnational coalitions of Blackness represented by temporalities of elegy and slam poetry are crucial to questioning traditional constructions of Latinidad. The dissertation turns attention in Chapter 3, “Edges and Centers,” to Oliver Baez Bendorf’s Advantages of Being Evergreen and Raquel Salas Rivera’s Antes que isla es volcán/Before Island Is Volcano to show the centrality of chiasmus to a decolonial poetics of transness, which can unbind constructions of Latinidad from the confines of national thought.
My dissertation contributes to and develops critical approaches to Latinx poetry in three ways. I first attend to how these texts generate their own poetic theories through the interplay of history and poetic form. Second, I attend to the aesthetics of poetic form by drawing from lyric theory. In doing so, I posit that these writers deploy poetic form—white space, lyric sequence, and prose paragraphs, for example—to shape forms of Latinx embodiment on the page produced by crossings of race, gender, and sexuality. Third, I employ performance theory to hold politics and aesthetics in tension. I argue that, as both a textual and embodied practice, contemporary Latinx poetry unsettles the limits of both the page and the historical record through poetic counterhistories. These counterhistories reveal that aesthetic performances of Indigeneity, Blackness, and transness are integral to the national histories they reflect upon. In turning to poetry, I suggest, they also signal a hemispheric Latinidad.
These texts produce specifically Latinx counternarratives that reject easily attributed identity categories, which are arguably central to maintaining what Walter Mignolo and others have called the “ongoing coloniality of power.” Performance theory renders these lyric translations of the body into form as relational, decolonial, and public-facing practices that question the genres, forms, and histories of Latinx embodiment. My research engages especially urgent contemporary issues in the field, such as the histories of coloniality, current Indigenous and LGBTQ+ activism, and the Black Lives Matter Movement. These poems nuance constructions of Latinidad and imagine possibilities for the term “Latinx.” In this contribution to what might be considered Critical Latinx Studies, “Latinx” is not a constraint but rather an opportunity for connection and abundance rooted in the embodied experiences of being Latinx across time.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Latinx Studies, Poetry and Poetics, Lyric, Performance
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