A Poetics of Resistance

Women Writing in El Salvador, South Africa, and the United States
Mary DeShazer
A survey of the empowering poetry of politically active women in El Salvador, South Africa, and the United States.


The recent critical works that look at literature as a weapon of resistance have frequently neglected the genre of poetry, particularly the poetry of Third World women writers. A Poetics of Resistance is the first book-length examination of poetry written by woman of El Salvador, South Africa, and the United States and the ways it bears witness to political struggle and produces new kinds of knowledge.
Engaging the works of critics such as Chandra Mohanty, Barbara Harlow, Claribel Alegria, Albie Sachs, and Audre Lorde, among others, Mary DeShazer reconceptualizes traditional notions of resistance and literature and the relationship between them. She argues that women’s voices have been underrepresented in previous analyses of Third World resistance poetry, and that when examined collectively, their work reveals overtly gendered concerns that distinguish it from that of their male counterparts.
DeShazer defines resistance as an active quest for justice and a means of collective empowerment. She looks at the diasporic consciousness of exiled and dislocated women, examines the tensions between claims of identity and claims of difference, and explores the ways in which gender and struggle connect women across nationalities and historical imperatives. Her analysis of Salvadoran and South African women’s poetry reveal the ways in which poetic conventions can be seen as “political declarations of privilege,” casting a new light on women’s resistance poetry in the United States.

Praise / Awards

  • "I was very moved by this book, and find it very necessary."
    —Carolyn Forché, George Mason University
  • ". . . an engaging, informative, provocative, enlightening book. . . . DeShazer's work itself produces new kinds of knowledge. . . . an important project to redefine conventional notions of resistance and the work of literature."
    —Martha Nell Smith, University of Maryland
  • ". . . a very significant and powerful book."
    —Nellie McKay, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • ". . . boldly establishes a cohesive critical framework within which to examine women's writings in three disparate nations. . . . This book will be highly useful in comparative literature and women's studies classes. It will sensitize readers to coincidences and dissimilarities in cross-cultural experiences and will supplement social science texts with insights available in literature. What can poetry tell us that analyses cannot? DeShazer's book provides a wealth of answers and shows what some are loath to recognize—that artists are often ahead of their times in illuminating political and social watersheds."
    NWSA Journal
  • "The book reads as an extended exchange in which US feminist theories are used to illuminate the writings of Third World women, and vice versa. DeShazer understands that current US feminism, while located in its own cultural context of national privilege and power, has been reshaped by the insights and theories of women with Third World perspectives, including our own resistant women poets. . . . This kind of study is overdue, and the work DeShazer has done is admirable. The poems and the stories of the poets she has gathered are thrilling, and her approach to feminist theories as she crosses cultural borders is astute and respectful."
    Women's Review of Books

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 368pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 1994
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06563-9

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  • $39.95 U.S.