Edited by Sandeep Parmar
Over the past few years, the conversation about race and UK poetry has shifted. 2015 saw Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric win the UK’s Forward Prize for Best Collection, two subsequent wins (Sarah Howe’s T.S. Eliot prize and Vahni Capildeo’s Forward Prize), the formation of the ‘Race & Poetry & Poetics in the UK’ international research group (led by Dorothy Wang, Sam Solomon, Nisha Ramayya and Nat Raha) and several essays in the UK and the US including Andrea Brady’s ‘The White Privilege of British Poetry is Getting Worse’ and Sandeep Parmar’s ‘Not a British Subject: Race, Poetry and the UK Avant-Garde’. Previous discussions often focused on authenticity of ‘voice’, increasing representation and diversifying mainstream UK poetry, supported by poets, editors and poetry organisations alongside the Arts Councils UK. Now these debates are extending beyond poetry’s institutions and marketplace to more fully consider aesthetics of identity and poetic subjectivity as well as questioning the lyric. As Brady writes ‘poems which dare to claim subject and voice, challenging the obsession with technique which characterises much avant-garde writing, are often regarded as naive expressions of “identity politics”. Such responses fail to recognise that the black lyric “I” is a radical invention, whose history belongs with the avant-garde traditions it also corrodes.’
In her study of formal innovation and black aesthetics, Renegade Poetics, the American poet and critic Evie Shockley quotes Harryette Mullen’s definition of innovative poetry ‘as explorative and interrogative, an open-ended investigation into the possibilities of language, the aesthetic and expressive, intellectual and transformative possibilities of language’ (2011, 11). Cathy Park Hong, Dorothy Wang, Timothy Yu, Dawn Lundy Martin, Prageeta Sharma, and many others, have instigated a rethinking of the North American avant-garde and its attitudes towards race, identity, poetic language, cultural and educational institutions and racism. Likewise, an open and focused questioning of the aesthetic categories, communities and literary histories of ‘innovative’, ‘experimental’, ‘avant-garde’, ‘performance’ or ‘radical’ poetry with regards to race in Britain and Ireland (as well as links to transatlantic/international) must continue.
In an attempt to redress and rethink boundaries between the historical UK avant-gardes and work produced by Black, Asian and ethnic minority poets, the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry is seeking essays on race specifically in UK and Irish poetry. The aim of this special issue is to reconsider how poets of colour working across ‘avant-garde’, ‘performance’ and ‘mainstream’ traditions broaden the definition of innovation and the ‘possibilities of language’ in contemporary poetry and practice.
In addition to essays of 8,000-10,000 words, the Journal will include a symposium of poetics, in-conversations with editors, organisers and poets with a view to examining and challenging existing histories of race and poetry communities, and an update from the RAPAPUK research group.