Cover of Thinking Its Presence by Dorothy J. Wang
Thinking Its Presence
Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry
Dorothy J. Wang

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Honorable Mention in the 2014 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism, sponsored by the Poetry Foundation.

When will American poetry and poetics stop viewing poetry by racialized persons as a secondary subject within the field? Dorothy J. Wang makes an impassioned case that now is the time. Thinking Its Presence calls for a radical rethinking of how American poetry is being read today, offering its own reading as a roadmap.

While focusing on the work of five contemporary Asian American poets—Li-Young Lee, Marilyn Chin, John Yau, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, and Pamela Lu—the book contends that aesthetic forms are inseparable from social, political, and historical contexts in the writing and reception of all poetry. Wang questions the tendency of critics and academics alike to occlude the role of race in their discussions of the American poetic tradition and casts a harsh light on the double standard they apply in reading poems by poets who are racial minorities. This is the first sustained study of the formal properties in Asian American poetry across a range of aesthetic styles, from traditional lyric to avant-garde. Wang argues with conviction that critics should read minority poetry with the same attention to language and form that they bring to their analyses of writing by white poets.

About the author

Dorothy J. Wang is an Associate Professor in the American Studies Program at Williams College.

"Dorothy Wang provides an extraordinarily rich reading of minority discourse among experimental Asian American writers. In this theoretically sophisticated study, Wang reads identity as a function of specific linguistic, rhetorical practices that force us to re-think normative attitudes towards racial formations. Rather than discover 'Asianness' through thematic content, Wang studies ethnic identity in linguistic deformations, rhetorical figures, and idioms, which bear the weight of historical marginalization and silencing. It is a brilliant effort, theoretically sophisticated yet grounded in focused readings of individual works."

—Michael Davidson, University of California, San Diego

"Can race sit at the poetry table? Wang's passionate meditation on the inseparability of aesthetics and politics in poetry and poetics will fundamentally transform the ways in which we think racial difference and form in the literary. We will never approach metaphor, irony, parody, or contingency in the same way again. This is a fearless defense of poetry, race, and reading."

—David L. Eng, University of Pennsylvania

"The tendency not to address the formal properties of Asian American poetry—not to take it seriouslyas poetry, in Dorothy Wang's trenchant words—is rigorously corrected in her readings of John Yau, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, and others. This corrective is augmented by a theoretical assertion that demands that mainstream poetry be taken seriously as a record of the complexities of racial formation, and the racialized formation of personal and poetic identity, in the United States. Wang forcefully demands that we become better readers while carefully and generously showing us how to do just that."

—Fred Moten, Duke University