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Arcade Paperback – October 1, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
Blending the personal, the political and the avant-garde, Hunt's (Local History) second collection explores the bipolar role of the self in a society whose totality is unreachable yet always present: "Who wouldn't aspire to become an alien in their own language for a moment to lose the feeling of being both separated and crowded by their experience?" Though not quite reaching the philosophical horizons of language-oriented poetry, Hunt searches the idiom for "the words that unbutton/ the pants of ardent description." A calculated step into performance-oriented sing-song ("tune/ tin tongue/ ritual/ spoon/ spin spun/ pinned on/ words") helps us to read the more straightforward declarations ("I believe in personal contact") as provisional, even tongue-in-cheek, self-fashioning. All reflections here, however, are firmly grounded in the everyday. Through subway misadventures and interruptive phone calls, the poet is always present as a woman in and of the world. Saar, whose work appeared in the 1993 Whitney Biennial, focuses this collaboration between two African American women with 12 stark, haunting drawings (six on vellum) of black women and men in seemingly allegorical poses.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
Erica Hunt has been a housing organizer, labor news writer, radio produced and poetry teacher and currently works as a program officer for a social justice funder. Her poetry and essays on poetry's connections to politics, gender, and history have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Hunt has lectured on poetics at Naropa Institute, the Detroit Institute of Art, SUNY Buffalo and the St Mark's Poetry Project.
Alison Saar is the recipient of numerous grants and residencies. She has had exhibitons at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Oakland Musuem, and the Cleveland Center of Contemporary Art. In 1995 she had a solo exhibition at Phyllis Kind Gallery and an installation entitled THE WOODS WITHIN at the Brooklyn Museum. Her sculpture was included in the 1993 Whitney Biennial.
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The poems and images in Arcade primarily focus on women who resist social constraints. As the speaker in “Coronary Artist (2)” claims, “Where I stand now, I shout out of my body/armor. I whisper parts of the roar.” Saar’s accompanying woodcut of a woman burdened by her own hair adds nuance to notions of female strength and empowerment. Another poem, “Fortune,” suggests the impossibility of getting ahead in the world when each day “We wake up to make ends meet.”
Six of the eleven woodcuts in the book are reproduced on vellum, which permits Hunt’s words to show through the page and merge with the imagery in Saar’s prints. For example, “First Words,” the opening poem of the collection, is overlaid by a translucent page with an image of a woman tightly curled inside a red, womb-like shape. The large amount of negative space in the print allows for select words from the poem to be seen: “Night exits.../to the sky.” This layering effect heightens the sense of something new evolving from the contact of the words and images.
As a native New Yorker who lived in San Francisco during the 1970s and 1980s, Hunt is associated with Language poetry and contemporary Black experimental poetics. Arcade demonstrates both Hunt's gifts for using language in expressively inventive ways as well as Saar's command of cultural references of the African American diaspora. This is a lush and rewarding book.