English R1B

Reading and Composition: Community Poetics: Contact Zones in Life and Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Fall 2017 Klavon, Evan
MWF 1-2 225 Dwinelle Reading and Composition

Book List

Perez, Craig Santos: from unincorporated territory [guma’]; Rankine, Claudia: Citizen: An American Lyric; Rosenwasser , David, and Jill Stephen: Writing Analytically; Taylor, Tess: Work & Days

Other Readings and Media

Additional readings will be supplied in a course reader / electronically.


How can reading and writing be of value to our everyday lives—not only to us as reflective individuals, but as active members of various communities, in interaction with each other?

Reading and writing are often thought of as solitary activities. Poetry, when it’s thought of at all, is often understood as an act of personal expression. But as uses of language they are inherently social acts—events of representation, knowledge-production, and communication—that relate persons to each other by relaying experiences, ideas, and values. To work to understand the words of others is to work to understand others’ worlds. Texts are always part of contexts, purposeful contributions to an ongoing, broader conversation.

This course is a collaborative exploration in thinking about and addressing communities and their interrelations. Students will complete frequent writing assignments leading up to a 5-7 page essay and a 8-10 page research project, which will each be revised.

The first half of the semester will be spent practicing a process of inquiry by investigating a “contact zone” of your choice. In her essay “Arts of the Contact Zone” Mary Louise Pratt coins this term to refer to “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today” (34). After reading Pratt’s essay, you will choose such a local space where groups are in conflict—on campus, in your housing or workplace, in town, etc. In successive writing assignments, you will investigate and analyze this space and the relations between its groups, sharing your work with your peers, learning from each other, and giving each other feedback. The project will culminate in producing a “protest” in a genre of your choice, making an intervention in order to improve community relations in your contact zone.

In the second half of the course we will turn our attention to inquiry and writing by drawing on textual research rather than field observations. Our focus will be on select books of poetry—examples of what I call “community poetics,” where the poet is representing not just her own experience in her poems, but the experiences and concerns of a community, such as black citizens of the US, or Chamorro persons from Guam. You will choose such a book as the primary text for your final research project, working through a guided process to produce your own insights on the literary work and the larger conversation in which it takes part. While you are pursuing this personal project, in class we will practice using various kinds of secondary sources to enhance our collaborative analysis of poetic examples addressing racism, imperialism, and ecological concerns as they are experienced by communities in the 20-teens.

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