Academic journal article MELUS

Enclosure and Run: The Fugitive Recyclopedia of Harryette Mullen's Writing

Academic journal article MELUS

Enclosure and Run: The Fugitive Recyclopedia of Harryette Mullen's Writing

Article excerpt

Harryette Mullen has published five books of original poetry--Tree Tall Woman (1981), Trimmings (1991), S*PeRM**K*T (1992), Muse & Drudge (1995), and Sleeping with the Dictionary (2002). Additionally, she has published two books which reissue her earlier works: Blues Baby: Early Poems (2002), which reprints Tree Tall Woman and also includes a previously unpublished collection; and Recyclopedia: Trimmings, S*PeRM**K*T, and Muse & Drudge (2006). Mullen self-consciously inherits and intervenes in what Kathy Lou Schultz calls the "legacy gone missing" of "avant-garde practice by African-American women poets" (n. pag.). Mullen is actively engaged in recovering this legacy through her creative, scholarly, and editorial work. (1) Poised in the dialectic of what I call "enclosure" (identity, history, and the archive, but also, racism, exclusion, and limitation) and "run" (mobility, flight, escape, critique, ongoing poesis, and revision), Mullen's work plies the tensions between these disparate but mutually dependent poles. From the negotiation of this tension, Mullen produces a formal strategy predicated on the communal participation of others and distinctive among innovative poets--the recyclopedia.

Mullen's writing creates texts that remain open to ambiguity, difficulty, and difference. Her writing engages in political and social criticism with particular attention to race, gender, and the discourse of the commodity, while it delights in the pleasures of an infinite linguistic jouissance. Many of the critics who have written about Mullen's work, including Elisabeth A. Frost, Juliana Spahr, Allison Cummings, and Deborah Mix, foreground its complex "mixtery" of disparate sources and influences, illustrating its rich and critical interrogation and reframing of literary history. Importantly, each critic also emphasizes Mullen's attention to communal reading practices and several situate Mullen's work as a negotiation between multiple discourses and influences, including Black Arts, Steinian modernism, and Language writing. Mix locates Mullen's work in Trimmings and S*PeRM**K*T in relation to Gertrude Stein but demonstrates how Mullen's "subversion of convention.., is both more complicated [than Stein's] (in its inclusion of race in the welter of discourses of femininity and sexuality) and more communitarian (in its recognition of the individuals tangled in these linguistic webs" (71). Frost demonstrates Mullen's rare ("among recent avant-garde poets") revamping of the lyric and argues that Mullen "constructs lyric otherwise--as an experiment in collective reading and an assertion of the complexities of community, language, and poetic voice" (466). While Spahr asserts that "what has interested me about Mullen's work has been her attention to reading, an attention that is rooted in the intersection between language writing's pursuit of wild reading and autonomy- and identity-centered poetry's concerns with community building and alliance" (115), Cummings points out that "Mullen's work then has garnered critical adulation not only because it works to synthesize disparate traditions, but because it reflects on that synthesis explicitly" (24).

Surveying Mullen's body of work as a whole and elaborating on Cummings's assertion that Mullen self-consciously reflects her work's synthesis of multiple discourses, I contend in addition that Mullen's writing is characterized by a productive tension between "enclosure" and "run," between an archive of cultural, linguistic, and historical references, images, and information and the fugitivity that is both a thematics and a formal strategy. Her archive manifests in the form of the palimpsest, or, to use a figure that Mullen herself foregrounds, her archive is a recyclopedia. She takes debased, erased, and forgotten histories and found discourses and runs with and recycles them; she invites the reader to participate in this educative process of conservation and production, enclosure and fugitive run. …

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