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The Critical PulseThirty-Six Credos by Contemporary Critics$
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Jeffrey Williams and Heather Steffen

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780231161152

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231161152.001.0001

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On Race and Literature

On Race and Literature

(p.157) 22 On Race and Literature
The Critical Pulse

Kenneth Warren

Columbia University Press

This chapter presents the author's account of a key moment teaching a poem and how it opens onto histories of immigration and racism. The poem—Janice Mirikitani's “Why Is Preparing Fish a Political Act?”—consists of five stanzas of varying length, and opens with the speaker describing herself as unsuccessfully trying to “capture the flavors” of the Japanese New Year's meal that her grandmother used to make. The author suggests that the poem makes us see the problem of inequality in terms of racial discrimination rather than in terms of economic inequality. The signal achievement the poem is that it manages to convey the urgency of a politics of antidiscrimination while remaining a work of serious literature.

Keywords:   immigration, racism, teaching, poetry, poem, Janice Mirikitani, Why Is Preparing Fish a Political Act?, inequality, racial discrimination

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