The Flower and the Tank

Documentary Poetics

Poetry bears witness to history. The poet Liu Xiaobo wrote in response to the 1989 Tian’anmen Square protests of existing “between the flower and the tank,” a sentiment we will take up in this workshop as emblematic of the collision between first-person experience and overwhelming political reality. In these five weeks we will explore the generative possibilities of using poetry to document a historical moment and/or self, a personal psychology/pathology, a process of thinking acted upon by the forces of time—most likely where all of these things intersect. Taking a second cue from Lyn Hejinian’s idea of the “open text,” one in which “all the elements of the work are maximally excited,” students will experiment with and borrow from the language of mainstream documentation and use it to a different end. How can poetry speak on (and against) the contemporary moment with a different mouth than corporate reportage? Where do the myriad concerns of a modern first-person self merge with journalistic intention? Students will situate themselves as poet, archivist, historian, narrator and critic. Texts will be considered by Lucy Ives, Anna Moschovakis, Liu Xiaobo, Claudia Rankine, Lyn Hejinian, Aaron Kunin, Danez Smith, Myung Mi Kim and various others.

Workshop Details


Wendy Xu is the author of You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013) and several chapbooks. Selected by D.A. Powell for the 2011 Patricia Goedicke Prize in Poetry, her recent work has appeared in Best American Poetry, Poetry, Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Guernica, Black Warrior Review, Hyperallergic, The Volta and elsewhere. She was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship by the Poetry Foundation in 2014. She lives in Bushwick and teaches writing at CUNY.