Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tracie Morris, "Heroine" [L1]

Morris, Tracie. “Heroine.” PennSound. Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania, 2004. MP3. [L1] (Follow link to listen.)

(This is part of Morris' reading for the 3rd Annual Caroline Rothstein Oral Poetry Program at the Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania, October 28, 2008. A recording of the complete reading can be found here, courtesy of PennSound's awesome audio archive. My responses to the other poems Morris performed at this reading are here.)

Morris reads this poem straight, against a background of synthesized sounds. The most striking thing about her performance, though, isn't any connection she forges with the music; in fact, I'm not sure there is a purposive connection at work in this regard. Rather, the most striking aspect is something she says in the prefatory remarks in which she frames her poem—and her larger poetic undertakings—for the audience. "Working with language and sound," she says, "is about contextualizing things for the community that you're working with." Heeding her own observation, she goes on to contextualize "Heroine" as an act of language (my words) that sounds or gives voice to the community experience she had growing up in 1970s New York. This was a socially/culturally disruptive experience, she continues, that "we . . . might always be in danger of going back to." As I read it, the core of this poem (at least in part), as the core of the experience Morris takes up in it, is a desire or compulsion or need to dress in the fashions of a certain time and place and the simultaneous longing to fly away from or to leak through the boundaries of these spatio-temporal limits. The poet (the heroine of the poem's title?) brings language to bear as a possible means to revise past experience and to redeem communities and individuals from immediate spatio-temporal bonds—to help us move beyond crippling desires and to rise to our potential.

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Image source: Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania