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Phone: +7 (495) 772-95-90 * 12481

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Head of the School Ekaterina Kolesnikova

Secretary's phone number: +7 (495) 772-95-90 ext. 23152

Deputy Head of the School Nadezhda Vradiy

"African American poetry illustrates human suffering, reminiscent of the romantics"

Before the seminar "Selected African American Poets from Harlem Renaissance to Our Present Time" as part of the project Colloquium+, Professor Alexandra Nagornaya interviewed Professor Yasser K. R. Aman. 
Alexandra Nagornaya:  How did you become interested in African-American poetry?
Yasser Aman: Well, after finishing my MA titled Shelley and Al Shaby: A Comparative Study, I started reading in different areas in order to choose a topic for my PhD. I was fascinated by the history of African Americans and I ended up choosing Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen for my PhD which is titled: Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen: A Comparative Study.

A N: Do you have a favorite poet or poem?
Y A: My favorite poem is “Balqis” by Nizar Qabbani, a Syrian poet. I translated the poem 11 years ago and it was published in Genre, vol. 29, by California State University. The poem is an elegy in which the poet laments his wife who was bombed when she rode the car on her way to work. In this poem, the poet scandalized Arab politics and highlighted the atrocities committed by Arabs against Arabs.

A N: What is the particular angle of your research into African-American poetry? How topical do you think this research is?
Y A: In 1999, I started my project discussing the two main types of African Americans: those who fall under self-acceptance, among them is Hughes; and those who fall under self-rejection an example of whom is Cullen. Then I spent eighteen years writing about the development of African Americans’ struggle for achieving equality and empowerment.

A N: How is African-American poetry different from other poetry that you know and like?
Y A: African American poetry is based on a particular political and cultural idiom that is rooted in Africa. Deportation from Africa, enslavement and struggle have been underpinning most of the literary works written by African Americans. Unlike other hyphenated identities, African American identity has many facets: a shadow identity (lost forever after deportation), present identity (crystallized by enslavement, struggle and empowerment) and a wished-for identity (either by returning to African and realizing the shadow identity that will turn into African identity, or by assimilating and becoming part of the melting pot resulting in a full-fledged American identity). I wrote my MA on romantic poetry which I like because it touches upon human feelings; however, African American poetry illustrates human suffering and highlights the spirit of rebellion, reminiscent of the romantics, in order to achieve freedom, equality, recognition and empowerment, especially of black women.

A N: Can you identify a piece of poetry as African-American without knowing the ethnicity of the poet?
Y A: This is difficult to achieve. If you follow the New Critics and their followers, the poem will be decontextualized and contextual references will be of no use. Even reader response theory advocates will agree on this; however, the experience of the reader to fill in the gaps as Iser maintained will be carefully weighed. Even the historical approach may fail since a non-African American may write about the “weeping time”, (1859), as if his/her great ancestors were part of the woebegone event. Only can we identify a poem as African American if we rely on the structure and music. Take for example jazz and blues poems.

A N: In contemporary Linguistics African-American English is often romanticized. Claude Brown, for instance, famously called it “spoken soul”, while James Baldwin referred to it as “incredible music”. Do you agree that this language has a special lyrical quality? 
Y A: Of course, African American English has its own idiom, the black idiom. It is sufficient to look at jazz and blues poems to see the particular nature this kind of art enjoys. Take for example Langston Hughes’s Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods of Jazz.  In this work you will see how jazz plays an important role not only at the level of music and structure but at the level of the theme as well.

A N:  What is your most current research interest?
Y A: A paper on Nathalie Handal, a French American Palestinian poet, is about to be published in 3L journal. I have also just finished a paper on Instapoetry in which I suggest a new paradigm that can be used in judging new subgenres of poetry. Next April, I am going to give a presentation on the loss a translation of a poem suffers when the poet’s voiced version is not considered. Next May, I am going to give a presentation on examples of appropriation in literary translation. Next June, I will attend a two-week online seminar in the Institute of World Literature, Harvard University. 

Seminar "Selected African American Poets from Harlem Renaissance to Our Present Time"
Date: April, 8, 6:30 p.m.
Registration