This essay analyzes what I term “poetics of the record” in the context of black feminist experimental poetry. I argue that iterative photographic forms, premised on the confluence of particular index and general typology, shed light on poems that appropriate and reframe verbatim archival prose. Such a poetics of the record theorizes, historicizes, and politicizes language through expropriation of documentary text. Critics often read documentary poetry as a humanist effort to recover stories or give voice to lost or injured individuals, but this interpretation overlooks the nonnarrative, citational, and impersonal character of the texts themselves. Robin Coste Lewis’s Voyage of the Sable Venus is an 80-page poem in which every word is taken from museum and catalog copy pertaining to Western works of art in which a black female figure is present: it at no point allows the reader to picture a coherent subject. Rather, Lewis reframes what is already clearly visible, forcing a rereading of racialized perception itself. Against assumptions of autobiographical expression, I argue that Lewis forgoes subjectivity to focus on the formal apparatuses of visuality and record-keeping that help structure relations of race and gender.
"Poetics of the Record: Robin Coste Lewis’s Voyage of the Sable Venus,"
Criticism: Vol. 62:
4, Article 2.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol62/iss4/2