Black History Month at Fashion Poetics: Celebrating black women of unusual style and poetic conviction

Harryette Mullen: Professor and Poet

Harryette Mullen is a poet and professor of English at UCLA. Her work deals with race, gender, consumerism, and language itself. Originally she began writing prose, but she found her way to poetry through music and spoken word traditions. Mullen has published eight volumes of poetry, two of which are anthologies of her own work. Her second book, Trimmings, uses the physicality of clothing as a meditation on femininity, gender, and the body. It is surprising and witty, breathing life into clothing catalogue copy by creating poetic slippages, thus opening up dress to the edges of its meaning. The Partisan Review described it as, “an ebulliently feminist, black and bluesy, bebop, wicked, scatty, addictive sequence of mazy prose poems, ostensibly about wardrobe accessories and the ramifications thereof, and in fact about language and semiotics in general.” Mullen’s most recent work, Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary, was published last year. In it, she employs tanka, a form of Japanese verse, as well as the Japanese poetic tradition of observation of one’s natural surroundings. She traversed California in both rural and urban settings with a notebook in her pocket, writing these verses on the fly.

An untitled poem from Trimmings:

Heartsleeve’s dart bleeds whiter white, softened with wear.

Among blowzy buxom bosomed, give us this — blowing,

blissful, open. O most immaculate bleached blahs, bless

any starched, loosening blossom.

Sources: Wikipedia, Poetry Foundation, Gray Wolf Press Blog, Trimmings


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