“a supremely creative and passionate scholarly approach”: Times Higher Ed. on Make It the Same

THE logoMartin Dyar has reviewed Make It the Same for Times Higher Education. The review begins:

At first glance, the poetry that Jacob Edmond has written about in Make It the Same could appear to be precariously inclined towards abstruseness. And a significant number of the poets whose work is explored here have not been previously granted such thorough critical attention. But Edmond draws his subjects out brilliantly, revealing abundantly relatable dimensions of meaning and achievement within worlds of textual, visual and sonic density and, most importantly, worlds of poetic copying. With great detail, and in an impressive historical and biographical narrative mode, which serves to balance a broad theoretical range, Make It the Same catches and amplifies the nuances of individual poems, setting down supple paraphrases and interpretations based on oftentimes breathtaking levels of attunement to 20th-century and contemporary poetry.

And it concludes:

The flexibility of his approach, his uncanny ability to extend the meanings of writing and reading, and his willingness to participate in the numerous digital frontier forms that poets in recent decades have sought to explore bear rich fruit. In addition to developing an illuminating vocabulary for the discussion of the ever-presence of the internet and the global digital economy, he accesses profoundly the often forgotten element of lyrical substance in postmodernist, avant-garde and multimedia work. He achieves this while speaking for the foothold that poetry has maintained since the advent of online life, even when it is combatively immersed in a new world that tends to disregard its claims to freedom, not to mention its continuity with the oldest impulses of literature itself. Only a supremely creative and passionate scholarly approach could have yielded such a timely vision.

You can read the full review here.


“a radical contribution to poetry studies”: LARB reviews Make It the Same

larbThe Los Angeles Review of Books has just published Walt Hunter’s review of Make It the Same. The review concludes:

Edmond’s book makes a radical contribution to poetry studies. For Edmond, the agent of poetic change is not the individual, but rather the shifting collaboration between technology and politics that produces different kinds of copies. Poetic style has sometimes been read as the development of a poet’s mind as it self-consciously struggles with the conditions that shape it. In Make It the Same, the history of poetry comprises a large cast of nonhuman actors. The implication is that the poetry scholar might not know in advance all the factors that contribute to the emergence of poems. Poems, in turn, might reveal more about the political laboratories of globalization than has been widely understood. The publication of Make It the Same should be celebrated not only for what the book does well — its subtle analyses of poems, its detailed knowledge of technology, its easy movement between English, Chinese, and Russian — but also for what it makes possible for scholars of poetry to do next.

Read the full review here.

Make It the Same interview on All Good Poems Wear Travelling Shoes

All Good PoemsI had the great pleasure last week of speaking with Ian Loughran about Make It the Same on his wonderful radio programme All Good Poems Wear Travelling Shoes. The recording is now online. Click below to listen.

Tape as postcolonial medium

Make It the Same grows in part out of my fascination with the effect of new media on how poetry—and culture at large—is made. When I began the book, I was thinking for the most part of digital media. However, in the course of my research I became interested in how some of the changes that we associate with digital media were anticipated by media practices that developed in the mid-twentieth century. I also discovered how anti-colonial and postcolonial poetic and artistic innovations in the mid-twentieth century were inseparable from innovations in media practice. Hence the title of the first chapter of Make It the Same: “Postcolonial Media.” In this chapter I focus on the example of Kamau Brathwaite’s innovative use of new media and especially of the reel-to-reel tape recorder.

In Make It the Same, I show how Brathwaite used tape to write (and repeatedly rewrite) his epic Arrivants trilogy. I also note the pivotal role that tape played in the Caribbean Artists Movement, which Brathwaite helped found.

I draw on the tape archive of the Caribbean Artists Movement in a recently published essay, “Global Rhythms: Setting the Stage for World Poetry in 1960s London,” as I explain in a piece just published on the University of Toronto Press Journals Blog, part of which is reproduced below.

Fifty years ago this June an extraordinary reading took place in London. John La Rose brought together a Caribbean cast for a staged bilingual French-English performance of Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land).

The 1969 bilingual reading not only marked the thirtieth anniversary of the first publication of Césaire’s revolutionary poem; it also arguably represented a highpoint in the collective artistic and intellectual efforts of the Caribbean Artists Movement. The bilingual performance spanned one of the Caribbean’s main linguistic and political divisions—a legacy of colonialism that the Caribbean Artists Movement sought to overcome. The reading also embodied the Caribbean Artists Movement’s emphasis on the diverse patterns of speech in the Caribbean. It brought together performers with the distinctive speech of several islands, including Césaire’s “native land,” Martinique. One of the founders of the Caribbean Artists Movement, Kamau Brathwaite, would later term these various speech patterns “nation language” to emphasize their importance to the postcolonial cultural and political independence that the Caribbean Artists Movement sought to foster and to celebrate.

For fifty years this reading has been almost forgotten and might have been forever, had it not been for the prescient archival instincts and technological savviness of the Caribbean Artists Movement’s founders, including La Rose and, especially, Doris and Kamau Brathwaite. When the Caribbean Artists Movement was founded in London in 1966, the Brathwaites insisted that practically every public event and discussion be recorded. Their efforts yoked the librarian Doris’s instincts as an archivist with Kamau’s (then Edward’s) instincts as a poet and lover of new technology.

Kamau Brathwaite’s experiments with tape recording had begun over half a decade earlier. I have written elsewhere (in my book Make It the Same) about how Brathwaite used tape to compose his ground-breaking epic poem, The Arrivants. But his and Doris’s use of the tape recorder to create an audio archive of the Caribbean Artists Movement was arguably just as significant an achievement in the history of Caribbean culture.

Image Credit: The title page of the bilingual edition of Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Présence Africaine, 1968) signed by the majority of the readers in the 1969 performance. La Rose used and heavily annotated this copy in preparation for the performance. John La Rose Archive. George Padmore Institute, London.

A year ago I visited the wonderful George Padmore Institute, where copies of these tape recordings, collected by La Rose and others, are now housed. The George Padmore Institute sits above New Beacon Books, Britain’s first black publisher and bookshop. La Rose founded New Beacon Books in 1966 and played a key role in the establishment of the institute. Thanks especially to Sarah White (John La Rose’s wife and collaborator) and Sarah Garrod (the institute’s archivist), I was able to listen to the Caribbean Artists Movement recordings and to assist the institute in making digital preservation copies of this historic tape collection.

You can read the full post here.

Make It the Same released

make it the same hardcoverIt’s official: Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media is in the world. It is available now from Columbia UP (use the code CUP30 for a 30% discount), Amazon, and other booksellers.

The book has been a long time in the making. The origins of the project go back at least as far as a 2010 talk that I gave on Caroline Bergvall’s iterative poetics at the incredible Greenwich Cross-Genre Festival, organized by the amazing Emily Critchley. It was a great privilege to speak about the poetic uses of repetition, versioning, and appropriation at a forum that featured many wonderful contemporary writers, including Caroline herself.

That festival helped set me on the path to writing a book about poetry’s turn to copying, sampling, versioning, remediation, and other forms of repetition. Nine years later, and after countless other instances of encouragement and support from writers, artists, and scholars from around the world, I’m relieved and excited to be able to hold Make It the Same in my hands and so to make good on their faith in my work.

Experimental Chinese Literature

experimentalMy review of Tong King Lee’s Experimental Chinese Literature is now online at MCLC. It begins:

“In translating a work, I mistake it for my own,” writes Taiwanese poet Chen Li 陳黎. More and more writers today are making their texts from other texts through translation, cultural borrowing, and, increasingly, through the affordances of new media technologies. Around the world, their readers are likewise searching for new ways of understanding and reading this literature of repetition, translation, and remediation.

Tong King Lee 李忠慶 takes up this challenge in his book Experimental Chinese Literature: Translation, Technology, Poetics. Lee cites Chen Li’s statement in making the case for the inextricable relationship between poetic creation and translation in contemporary Chinese experimental literature (80). Lee defines experimental literature as “works that tap into various technologies in foregrounding their materiality.” For Lee, “experimental literature is . . . characterized by the interplay between the corporeality of the sign . . . and the travel of the text across languages and media” (166). Lee’s concern is thus primarily with works of poetry and contemporary art that highlight their own material qualities—the texture of the page, the shape that writing makes on a flickering screen, or in the space of a park in an open-air exhibition—and that explore textual translations not just between languages but also, importantly, between media.

Lee’s book makes a cogent argument for considering interlingual translation alongside trans-mediation, versioning, and appropriation. Lee collectively calls these practices, which I have elsewhere termed “iterative,” “translational.”[1] Lee extends the concept of the “translational” to cover not just translations into other languages but also the intermedia, interlingual, and intercultural transactions that are involved in the composition of many experimental literary texts (130–31). Lee argues that such translational texts require new translational approaches to reading (97).

Read the full review here.

Make It the Same Q and A

make it the same doubled and inverted

Recently, I was approached with a few questions about Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media. Below is an edited version of my answers, which offer a brief introduction to some of the book’s key arguments and themes. You can read the original article here.

Why did you decide to write Make It the Same?

Our world is full of copies. I wrote Make It the Same because I wanted to explore the consequences for art and culture of this world of proliferating copies.

We can now easily make copies of vast quantities of texts, images, and videos—something utterly unimaginable until very recently in human history. We also live in a world in which those copies travel across vast distances at the click of a button. This copying across languages and cultures goes to the very heart of what we call globalization.

We sometimes, quite rightly, see this incessant copying as a threat, particularly when it seems to impact negatively on local languages, cultures, and traditions, and when it seems to promote a culture of clickbait and likes, in which value is measured only by the number of copies.

In Make It the Same, I wanted to explore how writers and artists respond to copying’s negative effects. But I also wanted to address the creative uses that they make of copying, which is, after all, a fundamental trait of human culture.

What is it about?

At the broadest level, Make It the Same is about how writers and artists (and people in general) respond to a world of proliferating copies.

Now, artists and writers might—and some do—respond by seeking to affirm the originality of their art. But what Make It the Same shows is that much of the most interesting and influential contemporary writing and art in fact works through copying, not against it.

Specifically, Make It the Same shows how poetry—an art form associated with the singular, inimitable utterance—is increasingly made from other texts through sampling, appropriation, translation, remediation, performance, and other forms of repetition.

We might think that such creative uses of copying are a product of the Internet age. But Make It the Same demonstrates that poets made similar use of earlier media technologies, such as the tape recorder, typewriter, and photocopier. So the Internet age is not so much the beginning as the continuation of a trend that stretches back at least to the 1950s, probably earlier. For example, Jamaican DJs invented many of our modern music sampling techniques using analogue acetate discs in the early 1960s. The poet Kamau Brathwaite, working in Jamaica at the same time, did a very similar thing for poetry, though he made use instead of the newly available medium of reel-to-reel tape.

As this example shows, when we start to take the art of copying seriously, we also see the history of art, literature, and music differently. In the past, writers and artists from small countries like Jamaica or New Zealand have often been seen as playing catchup to the cultural centres of London or New York. But seen through the art of copying, the history of recent art and literature looks quite different. In fact, it’s often writers and artists who sit outside these so-called centres who make the most powerful use of copying, in part because they are the ones who are most often accused of merely copying trends from somewhere else.

What can poetry offer us in terms of exploring complex contemporary issues?

While it is an academic book, Make It the Same also addresses some very topical concerns. For instance, one chapter looks at some of the troubling consequences of the attention economy produced by social media. I explore how this attention economy can drive more and more outrageous and extreme acts on- and offline, regardless of their ethics. I hardly need to point out how topical this issue is in the aftermath of the massacre in Christchurch.

Another issue that my book covers that might be of interest to a general or arts audience is the role of copying in our contemporary world.

In all fields of life, we tend to celebrate innovation and deride copying. My book argues, however, that copying is an underrated and important shaper of our social and technological world and is, arguably, more important to culture and society at large than making it new. While I write about the importance of copying primarily in relation to contemporary art and literature, I think this lesson has much broader implications for how we think about culture, science, technology, and society.

Equally importantly, my book addresses the copying involved in cultural globalization. We cannot escape this globalization, which means we find the same brands and the same music and films appearing again and again around the world. But the artists and writers that I discuss in my book turn this threat to local cultures into an opportunity. They find ways to play with and remix the cultural copying that is globalization.

Because it addresses such a broad range of examples, from Taipei to Moscow, Barbados to London, Make It the Same also showcases the cultural diversity of contemporary poetry and so gets us away from narrow, Eurocentric, sometimes stuffy views of what poetry is or might be. Exciting and influential poetic work can emerge from almost anywhere in this global cultural scene.

Finally, my book discusses sometimes strange and often beautiful examples of poetic word art that makes wonderful use of new media technologies—from tape recording and carbon copy in the 1960s and 1970s to today’s digital technologies.

I hope reading this book makes people think about . . .

I hope reading this book makes people think about our everyday acts of copying, whether they are viewing a webpage (and so copying it temporarily at least onto their phone or computer) or sharing a social media post or news article. We live a substantial portion of our lives through acts of copying. Make It the Same explores some of the positive and negative consequences of that copying and so will hopefully make readers more aware of the consequences of their own acts of copying and more alive to the beauty and dangers of the copy.

You should read this book if . . .

You should read this book if you are interested in contemporary writing and art. But even if you don’t think poetry or avant-garde word art is your cup of tea, you’ll still find plenty here to interest you, whether you are concerned about the impact of globalization and social media, or about other contemporary social issues such as rising nationalisms, the refugee crisis, and the politics of race.

Preview of Make It the Same online now

A preview of Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media is now available through Google Books. You can read a substantial portion of the introduction and a taster from a couple of other chapters. The full version (in hardback or ebook) will not be available until July but you can pre-order it now. Use the code CUP30 for a 30% discount when ordering directly from Columbia University Press. In the meantime, you can read the start of the introduction, “The Copy as Global Master Trope,” below or through Google Books.

Everywhere the same story: our world is full of copies. The Internet is made of billions of pages and files ceaselessly copied between machines, and many of those pages are themselves copies, the products of cut and paste, hard-copy scanning, or remixing. Mash-ups of other texts, images, videos, and sounds in turn generate the millions of memes and remixes that circulate online every day, producing yet more copies. Repetition is equally evident in the discourse and concrete products of the networked global economy. While science has long relied on the principle of repeatability, the terms iterative and even copying are now buzzwords of business, computing, and design. The manufacture of buildings, clothes, cars, computers, and countless other products involves ceaseless acts of copying that will only increase with the growth of 3-D printing and the Internet of things. These diverse copies and copying practices range from Bach concertos to Donald Trump memes, One Direction fan fiction to modular buildings, and game design to experimental physics. They are united by one thing: repetition itself.

Repetition has always played a role in culture, from the reiterated words that constitute language to the intricate rhythms of dance, music, and poetry. But never before have these repetitions been so overt and pervasive. If copying has become the dominant mode of cultural production, it is equally the condition of its distribution and consumption. Consumption itself becomes production when writers, artists, and social media users alike make their art and their personas through the selection and rearrangement of texts and images copied from elsewhere, whether in a book, a gallery space, an Instagram page, or a Facebook profile. Such repetitions on- and offline also produce the transnational copying of cultural material that we call globalization.

Make It the Same addresses this confluence of the form of the cultural work with the form of the global cultural system. The book traces a common turn to repetition and reproduction among diverse poets working in three global languages: Chinese, English, and Russian. Poetry is the literary genre traditionally most associated with repetition as a conscious stylistic element, through such devices as rhythm, rhyme, parallelism, anaphora, and pun. Poets over the last half century—and especially over the past two decades—have expanded their emphasis on repetition. The principle of repetition, for instance, undergirds the widespread use of sampling, performance, translation, writing constraints, digital networks, reiterations across multiple media, and the cut-and-paste compositions of “citational,” “unoriginal,” or “uncreative writing.”

In the field of contemporary poetry, scholars and poets alike have tended to treat these various kinds of repetition as largely separate phenomena. By contrast, Make It the Same shows how these diverse practices share a common iterative poetics. It explores the breadth of this iterative turn by crossing the fault lines of stylistic, cultural, and political commitments in contemporary poetry. One task of this book is to reveal the common cultural logic underlying the seemingly contrasting practices of such poets as Anne Carson and Christian Bök, Kamau Brathwaite and Kenneth Goldsmith, Hsia Yü 夏宇 and Yang Lian 楊煉, and Tusiata Avia and Dmitri Prigov. While these poets differ radically in their approaches, themes, and affiliations, they and a great many other contemporary writers wrestle with the cultural condition of repetition. By examining the work of such poets, I show how literature has over the past half century turned to iteration to address new media technologies and global cultural change.

To continue reading the introduction, go to the Google Books preview.

Poetry in Stereo

An Akai M-8 reel-to-reel tape recorder similar to the one that Doris Brathwaite transported around London on her motorbike to record Caribbean Artists Movement events in the late 1960s.

I am looking forward to speaking about the poetry of tape as part of the 2019 symposium of the New Zealand Modernist Studies Consortium. My paper for the symposium, “Poetry in Stereo: Towards a World Literature of Tape,” builds on my work on Kamau Brathwaite’s innovative use of the medium in the 1960s. As I show in Make It the Same, Brathwaite’s influential account of “nation language” in History of the Voice stems from his earlier use of the then new medium of tape. Since writing Make It the Same, I’ve had a chance to visit the wonderful George Padmore Institute in London and to listen to some of the extraordinary tape recordings made by Kamau Brathwaite and others, such as Doris Brathwaite and John La Rose, during their involvement in the Caribbean Artists Movement. I’ll be drawing on some of the fruits of that listening when I speak at the Univeristy of Waikato in Hamilton at the end of next week.

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