Memory at work : domestic archives in documentary poetry by women of color

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2022-12-02

Authors

Allan, Samantha (Samantha E.)

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Abstract

Because documentary poetry is often considered public-facing poetry about public concerns, its representation of domesticity is rarely studied. Arguing that documentary poetry helps poets localize censored historical events, I consider seven female poets of color whose documentary poetry projects represent the domestic sphere as a hyper-locality with a distinctly archival infrastructure. This infrastructure is constructed and sustained through acts of memory-keeping that assist in framing memory as a feminine skill. Examining the feminization of practices such as scrapbooking, secretarial labor, housecleaning, interior design, and recipe-writing, among others, I contend that the way western culture represents these activities contributes to the socialization of women as memory-keepers. For women of color, these modes are often especially undervalued, and underscore the injustice of archives that systematically exclude their voices. Centering collections by Black, Middle-Eastern American, and Indigenous female poets, I argue that each uses documentary poetic modes to intervene upon the colonial-patriarchal epistemologies that condition how we claim, inhabit, and navigate notions of “home.” Often repositioning feminized skills as tools of cultural and personal storytelling, rather than expressions of subservience, these poets nuance the ways we are taught to understand homemaking in the United States, and widen the study of spaces we consider politically, socially, and historically relevant. In so doing, they also widen our understanding of which spaces may constitute “home,” and perform acts of placemaking that allow the domestic to reach across nuclear familial units of privatized space and enable community advocacy and care. In all seven collections, poetry is a medium that allows each poet to liberate the English language from its participation in colonial violence, and use it in the service of new domestic, epistemic, and poetic structures.

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