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Sarah Dowling on Kamau Brathwaite and Make It the Same

Kamau Brathwaite

Sarah Dowling has written about Make It the Same alongside books by Stephanie Burt, Walt Hunter, and Roberto Tejada in the “Poetics” section of The Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory. I’m grateful to Dowling for placing me in such good company, for her careful engagement with my work, and, most of all, for emphasizing the significance of the “global outpouring of grief” for Kamau Brathwaite, who died earlier this year and whose work I endeavour to place in a similarly global context in the first chapter of Make It the Same. Here is the relevant excerpt from Dowling’s review essay:

The out-of-the-backyard quality of Edmond’s study is its greatest asset and its most valuable contribution to scholarly discourse in poetics. Beginning with Caribbean poetry and Russian samizdat literature, Edmond demonstrates that ‘far from being only a Western European and North American phenomenon that has subsequently been disseminated globally, the turn to repetition has multiple histories. To ignore or downplay these histories is to misunderstand fundamentally the global context and significance of iterative poetics’ (p. 17). Thus, he suggests that a foundational artistic gesture for contemporary poetics is the invention of ‘versioning’ in Jamaican recording studios in the 1960s: new read-write tape technologies allowed DJs to create multiple competing and complementary versions of songs. Edmond shows that these innovative practices of recording and remixing were quickly adopted by Kamau Brathwaite, becoming foundational to his compositional and performance practices, as well as to his theoretical approach to writing—Edmond provides a solid re-evaluation of Brathwaite’s career, placing the poetics of recording and re-recording at the center. Not only does Edmond’s positioning of Brathwaite as a foundational figure for contemporary poetry feel fresh and relevant; more importantly, it is accurate in a way that nation-based accounts of literary influence will never be. Reading Make It the Same in the wake of Brathwaite’s recent death confirms Edmond’s argument—the global outpouring of grief witnessed on social media revealed that the poet’s influence cannot be restricted to Barbadian or to anglophone Caribbean poetry. Instead, Brathwaite’s innovations in sound and visual poetics, his attention to institutions and environment, and his radical recording and recontextualizing practices have altered the course of poetry as it exists around the world.


Published by Jacob Edmond

Jacob Edmond is associate professor in English at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He is the author of Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media (Columbia University Press, 2019), A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature (Fordham University Press, 2012), and of numerous essays, which have appeared in journals such as Comparative Literature, Contemporary Literature, Poetics Today, Slavic Review, and The China Quarterly.

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