Edmond’s engaging and exciting book merits a wide readership by scholars and students across literary and cultural studies. Innovative, thoroughly researched, and well-argued, this book is a remarkable study of iterative poetics in the works of diverse poets of different backgrounds and cultures, and an important and timely addition to the growing scholarship on global literature that moves beyond the binaries of East and West, center and periphery, singularity and repetition.
I am very grateful to the TLS and Justin Quinn for this review of Make It the Same, even though my book is written precisely against the kinds of simplistic dichotomies, between past and present, “experimental” and “traditional,” that Quinn invokes at the end of the review. The review, however, opens with a nice summation of some of the book’s key motivations:
How can we understand poetry now that it travels so mercurially beyond the old enclosures? In Make It the Same: Poetry in the age of global media, Jacob Edmond sets out to make sense of the situation via the concept of “iterative poetics”, where the material means of transmission of the work is central to its meaning. Also, today’s critics, the study implies, should be alert to the ways in which putative “peripheries” have their own substantial powers, and are not forever doomed to wait for word from the metropolis about the state of the art.
Twenty years ago, a new door in my life opened when I entered the office of one Hilary Chung, a new lecturer in Chinese who had recently arrived in the country. I still recall pitching to her what I only much later realised was an extraordinarily eccentric PhD project, involving disparate contemporary poets writing in Chinese, Russian, and English.
Luckily for me, Hilary was not only, as she later put it, ‘the only potential supervisor with the requisite expertise in New Zealand’, but was also willing to use that expertise in both Chinese and Russian to guide me through a four-year-long comparative project that I would very likely have struggled to get past the gate-keepers at most universities around the world. Even then, I doubt I would have started, let alone finished, the project without Hilary’s enthusiastic response that first day in the tower block on Symonds St where Asian Studies was then housed.
Since learning of Hilary’s death, I have kept returning to our first meeting. She was enthusiastic, energetic, and she conveyed to me a sense that anything was possible. This sense manifested not just in her ability to enable me and others to pursue our goals but also in her sharp ear for bullshit and her refusal to accept lazy modes of thinking and writing, including, frequently, my own. I know my experience of Hilary as a supervisor was shared because of the many beautiful testimonies to her written by the almost twenty other PhD students whom she supervised over the subsequent two decades. But I also know that she didn’t just offer this support to her own students. I remember the thought and energy with which she responded to three of my PhD students at the 2017 NZASIA Pre-conference Postgraduate Workshop at the University of Otago in Dunedin. Her generosity and incisiveness that day reminded me again of how lucky I was to have had Hilary as a supervisor.
My most intense period of collaboration with Hilary came, however, not during my PhD but immediately afterwards, in 2005, when she and I collaborated on translating and editing a collection of Auckland writings by the poet Yang Lian 杨炼. I was already teaching at Otago by that time, and I vividly recall our long telephone discussions about the best translation of a tricky word or phrase. It was Hilary who led this work of translation, and once again it was her drive and passion that got the project over the line.
The building where I first met Hilary is a few minutes’ walk away from the Symonds St Cemetery and Grafton Bridge, landmarks that are central to the geography of Yang Lian’s Auckland writings and which may well also have featured in Hilary’s first experiences of the city after she moved to Aotearoa in 1999. Perhaps it was their shared experience of the city as somewhere strange and new that led Hilary to pay particular attention to Yang Lian’s Auckland work. Writing in this journal in 2012, Hilary described how ‘for Yang Lian confronting the trauma of exile in Auckland meant not only confronting the alienating environment of Auckland city with its dead volcanoes, incomprehensible street signs and unfamiliar intimacy with the sea, but developing a new relationship with the language of poetry such that home and identity came to be located in language itself’. Hilary was no exile, and she probably experienced the marks of British colonialism in language, street names, and culture as uncannily similar, rather than bewilderingly different. And yet, Auckland was still a strange city for her when I met her not long after her arrival. And she too forged a home and identity not just through family and place, but also in ‘language itself’, in her work and words as a scholar and translator.
Hilary died at the end of a long winter. Now, as I write, I look out on a flare of kōwhai blossom that seems only to reinforce the bitter truth of her words: ‘In winter the semblance of death is belied by the possibility of spring but flowers seem possible only in dreams.’
To praise the originality of Jacob Edmond’s account of modern poetry might sound rather ironic given the premise of the book, but the sheer ingenuity on display—as Edmond assembles poets from dozens of countries, poems in multiple platforms, and a dizzying array of technologies—is truly impressive. We now appreciate the unoriginality that Pound intended in “Make it new,” but Edmond shows how poetry can be reproduced, chopped, appropriated, hacked, retranslated, and otherwise remediated in ways that Pound could not have imagined in the pre-digital era. What this introduces, too, is a new velocity of reproduction and reproducibility: poetry circulates unoriginally—yet with great creativity—in an instant, Edmond shows, from the Caribbean to China to Russia to the United States and back in the blink of an eye. And it does so in wildly unexpected circuits: part of the book’s beauty is its ability to unpack putatively high and low forms, from the experimental avant-garde to cutup Twitter poems, in which poetry now travels. But there is nothing either Romantic or romantic about Edmond’s book; instead, it is a canny story of media itself in an age of Western dominance, of poetry’s imbrication in it and response to it, and of authors like M. NourbeSe Philip, Yi Sha, Caroline Bergvall, and Dmitri Prigov—along with many others—formulating and reformulating adaptable poetics that anonymous contributors around an unequal world continue to remix daily. The book therefore takes seriously its work to demystify, through its motif of the paradoxical “master copy,” our own enduring stories of originality that the media environments we inhabit every minute remind us must constantly be rethought.
I want to offer an apology, a correction, and a cautionary tale about authorship and scholarly error.
Let’s begin with the apology and correction. I want to apologize for a misattribution of authorship. In Make It the Same, I refer to a 2005 audio art project entitled Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” I cite this work on pages 122–23, again on page 147, and in a bibliographic entry (on page 300) as authored by cris cheek alone, whereas the work was in fact authored by cheek and Kirsten Lavers, who together formed the art collective TNWK (an acronym for Things Not Worth Keeping). The work was produced in collaboration with the sound artist Simon Keep and with the staff and students of Coleridge Community College in Cambridge, England. I sincerely apologize to all involved for this error.
Correct and full information about Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is readily available on the project’s website here (as an old archived website, it contains a few broken links).
However, instead of consulting this website, I relied on cheek’s PennSound page, where the audio project is available for download and where primary authorship of the project is (or was) attributed to cheek alone (I understand that this error is being corrected as I write). In repeating this error, I compounded it, transforming a mutable webpage into immutable print.
It’s an error I deeply regret not only because it elided the important work of others, first and foremost Lavers and Keep, in the project, but also because my attribution of sole authorship went against the ethos of “serious play,” as cheek puts it, around authorship that was integral to the project and to the work of TNWK.
In Make It the Same, I describe the project as “an audio recording of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in which each line is read by a different student or staff member from Coleridge High School [another error: it should read “Coleridge Community College”] in Cambridge, England. Coleridge thereby performs a multicultural community of many accents who nevertheless form a collective subject through their shared embodiment of a canonical text of English literature.” My attribution of sole authorship to cheek ended up replacing one white male English author with another, whereas a key aim of the project was arguably to displace both sole authorship and such gendered and racialized biases.
Like Coleridge’s rime, this is a cautionary tale. One shoots the albatross or ignores authorship at one’s peril. The death of the author has been much exaggerated. Authorship continues to matter deeply and perhaps even especially in projects that seek to draw it into question.
My error has in turn caused me to question my own biases and oversights in writing about such works and to be doubly conscious of how such an error can not only damagingly elide the work of an author but can also contribute to a scholarly system of citation that continues to elide the intellectual and creative labour of many. It was this very system of prejudice that Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” set out to highlight and oppose through a collective affirmation of difference to which I humbly, and belatedly, add my voice here.
Mark Byers’s review of Make It the Same has just been published in The Review of English Studies. It begins:
If textual appropriation is one prerogative of the advanced poet, as T.S. Eliot famously claimed, the work of late twentieth-century poets has been significantly aided by the arrival of the photocopier, magnetic tape, and the CTRL-C keyboard shortcut. In fact, plagiarism and appropriation, copying and remediation, have in recent years become pervasive cultural practices, undercutting the traditional prestige of the original, the autonomous, and the unique. In Jacob Edmond’s brilliant and wide-ranging book, contemporary poetry is symptomatic of practices of appropriation and remediation that have become a fixture of global digital culture.
Edmond’s analysis of the ‘iterative turn’ in post-1945 poetry presents a welcome advance on earlier studies of ‘unoriginal’ writing which have found their centre of gravity in the American avant-garde, including Marjorie Perloff’s Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century (2010) and, more recently, Kaja Marczewska’s This Is Not a Copy: Writing at the Iterative Turn (2018). The American avant-garde represents only one strain of copy culture in Edmond’s book, running alongside (and sometimes overlapping with) similar iterative practices in Soviet Russia, the Caribbean and China. More than this, Make It the Same persuasively situates the ‘copy’ at the nexus of postcolonial resistance, media technological transition, and accelerated globalisation. Copy culture, in Edmond’s view, is both the driver and the epiphenomenon of a transnational, multilingual, and technologically integrated global scene of textual and media exchange.
A full history of Cold War poetry would require nothing less than a comprehensive global account of the art form from the end of the Second World War to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It would need to address how the forms and themes of a vast and diverse body of poetic work engaged the social, political and cultural structures of the Cold War. And it would equally demand exhaustive attention to the particular local, national and regional inflections of Cold War poetic culture from the Beats to samizdat.
One way to start such a history, this chapter suggests, would be by tracing the various forms of dissent through which Cold War politics and poetics were conducted and contested. Poetry in the period was never separate from geopolitics, as the imbrication of art and literature with cultural propaganda on both sides of the Cold War divide clearly demonstrates.1 During the Cold War, any seeming deviation from one side in the conflict could be taken as dissent by that side and as assent by the other. The pressure to pick a side was powerful and the financial and cultural rewards significant. Funds from the CIA, for instance, supported Derek Walcott’s ‘entrance into the New York literary marketplace’.2 And Walcott’s later praise of Guyana’s president, Forbes Burnham, for his sponsorship of the 1966 Caribbean Writers and Artists Conference, held in celebration of the country’s independence, was read by some as implicit support for the CIA’s work to bring Guyana’s first president to power and to suppress communist opposition to his rule.3 By the same token, attendance at the 1968 Cultural Congress of Havana meant, in the words of the Congress’s General Resolution, to ‘refuse to cooperate with or to accept invitations or financial assistance from the Government of the United States of America and its official agencies, or from any organization or foundation whose activities lead one to believe that intellectuals who participate in them serve the imperialist policy of the United States’.4
As these examples illustrate, the Cold War produced and often funded new kinds of literary transnationalism in the form of international writers’ gatherings, festivals and other events. Though often presented as attempts to overcome the global divide, these ostentatious performances of regional or world literature were nevertheless frequently polarised sites for ideological battles and powerplay in the cultural Cold War. Writers had to negotiate these ideologically charged forms of transnationalism. If the Bandung conference of 1955 was a moment of Third World solidarity, for instance, it was also arguably about the assertion of Chinese dominance, leadership and racial supremacy within that world, an attempt to present ‘the Chinese as leaders of colored people of the world’.5 And if Charles Wright’s scepticism of this Chinese assertion of power at Bandung credentialed him to receive CIA funding (through the American Committee on Race and Class, a CIA front group) for the Congress of Black Writers and Artists the following year and to propagandise against communism, then W.E.B. Du Bois’s celebration of the Bandung conference and praise for the Chinese might equally have contributed to the US government’s refusal to issue him with a passport to attend the event.6 As the examples of Wright and Du Bois suggest, whatever their aesthetic and political commitments, intellectuals and writers were frequently in the invidious position of having to take sides in the cultural and ideological battles of the Cold War, even when those battles did damage to the very causes they supported, as in the case of Third World solidarity and Black rights. This system of oppositions was reinforced by more or less draconian regimes of persecution—from the refusal of a passport to expulsion from a country, from surveillance to imprisonment—and by a series of incentives, including travel to and participation in the burgeoning post-1945 circuit of writers’ events, meetings and festivals that the Cold War helped to produce and support.
A history of Cold War poetry would need to trace how poets negotiated these new transnational connections and the binary ideological and institutional divides through which dissent and conformity were defined and manufactured globally during the era. In writing such a history, ‘one challenge poetry scholars face […] is to locate rubrics that bridge the methodological gap separating Cold War cultural and institutional history from a close attention to the formal work of poetic cosmopolitanism in the modernist traditions’.7 Such formal and aesthetic responses to larger Cold War cultural conditions have been partially traced through questions of gender, privacy and community and through a careful attention to the interplay between poetics and affiliations with Cold War institutions.8 The most productive of this scholarly work shows how the forms and engagements of Cold War poetics responded to a series of Cold War binaries, including masculine versus feminine, private versus public and communist versus anti-communist. Such various uses of and resistances to these binaries, I suggest, might be collectively understood as the Cold War poetics of both dissent and discontent with dissent. To understand Cold War poetics in this way is to recognise how some poets sought to evade the dichotomising logic not only of hegemonic ideologies but also of the dominant oppositional movements that challenged them. Such poets did not so much dissent from the ideology of one or other side in the conflict as from the terms of the conflict as a whole. They turned to alternative formations, including those based on race, gender, sexuality or postcoloniality, through which they opposed the extension of imperialism and colonialism and the frequent assertion of normative white male heterosexuality that underpinned the cultural politics of both governing positions in the cultural Cold War.
This chapter offers some signposts for a larger yet-to-be-written history of dissent and its discontents in Cold War poetry. It not only explores but also questions dissent as a paradigm for understanding Cold War poetics. It addresses how the qualities that counted as dissent were contested by poets working both within various national literatures and through the various forms of transnationalism that often predominated in Cold War poetics. The poets discussed here illustrate only a few of the myriad ways in which writers sought to negotiate the Cold War opposition within their particular cultural and political contexts from China to Russia, the United States to Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Anglophone Caribbean. These national contexts in turn illuminate only a few of the many forms that Cold War opposition took in countries around the world from the Philippines to South Africa, India to Chile. The writers examined here nevertheless demonstrate the limits of dissent as a paradigm for understanding Cold War poetry and the need to recognise discontent with dissent as a significant and influential alternative in Cold War poetics. In the United States, for example, the history of avant-garde poetry from the Beats to the Language writers can be mapped as a contestation over how to express dissent. Allen Ginsberg acted out his dissent from the authorities on both sides of the Iron Curtain through high-profile poetic performances everywhere from the 1965 Prague May Day celebrations to, in the same year, the Vietnam Day Committee marches from Berkeley to the Oakland Army Base. Language writers such as Barrett Watten distanced themselves from the ultimately self-expressive approach to dissent pursued by Ginsberg, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov and others, yet still sought to transcend the Cold War divide in their poetry.9 In asserting affiliations with Russian futurism and formalism and with contemporary Russian poets such as Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, they affirmed an alternative form of political and poetic dissent that involved deforming language in order to highlight and attack the ideological underpinnings of the language of US politics and mass media.
By contrast, many Russian and Eastern European writers of the 1970s and 1980s, including Dragomoshchenko, resisted dissent as a paradigm for poetry, even as dissent came to define understandings of the region’s poetry and of poetic ‘seriousness’ in the West.10 Similarly caught in Cold War powerplay, postcolonial poets both invoked and sought alternatives to the binaries of them versus us and individual versus collective through which dissent was frequently conceived. In this sense, the dissent paradigm affected even those poets from the Caribbean to China, the Soviet Union to New Zealand who refused the dominant Cold War framework of dissent. Their ‘dissent from dissent’, as the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski put it, produced alternative forms of poetry.11 These alternative forms of poetry in turn necessitate an alternative framework for understanding Cold War poetics and its legacy for the poetry of today.
And, after discussing poems by Ginsberg, Andrey Voznesensky, Hone Tūwhare, Kamau Brathwaite, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, and Dmitri Prigov, the essay concludes:
We might think that the Cold War ended decades ago, but the conflict is critical to understanding literature today, and not just because contemporary geopolitical events remind us that the Cold War has, in such places as the Korean peninsula, never gone away and in others has perhaps only been dormant. The Cold War not only casts a long shadow over contemporary geopolitics but its ideological and conceptual structures arguably still shape today’s poetry and cultural politics. We see this ongoing influence in the Cold War origins of contemporary conceptions of transnational or world literature, especially of world poetry, and in the persistence, even intensification, of the discursive oppositions between individual and collective, politics and artistic freedom, the local and global.
In the mid-1990s, writer and editor Dmitri Volchek noted that many of the most innovative poets of the late-Soviet samizdat era ‘found themselves in the commercial, free-market world in the same position as they had been in when they were in the world of the Party and the KGB’.70 These authors, it seemed, were aesthetically marginalised not only for political reasons but also because most people did not understand or care about what they were doing, even when they had unimpeded access to their work. As Liudmila Zubova observed at this time,
[w]hile from the 1960s to the 1980s such texts in our country were rejected by the censor, in the conditions of freedom of the 1990s, texts with deformed language have been rejected by the greater part of society, who were brought up on the aesthetic ideals of a past era and are satisfied with a feeling of personal superiority to the poets. As a result, one can see that no matter how great the amount of political freedom the linguistic resistance realized in poetry will never cease to exist.71
This view of poetry as dissenting from the conditions of understanding was renewed as a form of political protest in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis. In Russia, a younger generation of writers responded to the crisis and to rising nationalism and xenophobia with a new poetry of dissent. Surprisingly, two of the most important models for these younger writers were Prigov and Dragomoshchenko. The very poets who dissented from direct forms of political dissent were now celebrated by a younger generation of activist poets. Ironically in this context, such poets appeared newly relevant not despite but because of their refusal of traditional approaches to literature, expression and dissent. Hence, for instance, Pussy Riot turned to the example of Prigov as one important precursor for their radical political art actions. They presented their protest at the 2018 FIFA World Cup final in Moscow as marking the eleventh anniversary of Prigov’s death, recalling Prigov’s hilarious poems and performances as a Soviet policeman by running onto the football field dressed in police uniforms.
A punning slogan composed by Russian poet Pavel Arseniev and first displayed on a banner at anti-Putin protests during the winter of 2011–12 illustrates a key reason for the renewed interest in those poets who refused the dissent paradigm of Cold War poetics. The slogan, which became one of the symbols of the protest movement, reads ‘Vy nas dazhe ne predstavliaete’, which could be translated either as ‘you don’t even represent us’ or as ‘you can’t even imagine us’.72 Where to dissent was to be legible within the binary logic of the Cold War, to refuse dissent was to refuse to be understood within its logic. Thus, in the banner, we find two key tendencies that will need to be traced in any future history of Cold War poetry and that remain with us today: on the one hand, the dissenting voice that speaks truth to power by saying ‘you don’t […] represent us’ and, on the other hand, an equally powerful voice that refuses the rules of the dissenting game and its demands that one take sides as the price of legibility. This voice says, instead, you do not understand us, ‘you can’t even imagine us’. Or as Bob Dylan put it at the height of the Cold War, ‘something is happening here / But you don’t know what it is’.73
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.
Anatoly Detwyler has reviewed Make It the Same in the latest issue of Modernism/modernity. I’m deeply grateful to him for his careful and astute engagement with my work and for carrying on the conversation about the copy in contemporary literature and culture. The review begins:
In Make It the Same, Jacob Edmond weaves discussions on the meaning and interpretability of copying into an original study of the cultural and historical development of literary copying. The study is motivated and made urgent by the centrality of copying in culture today, where copying has come to dominate not just the elevated world of experimental writing and art, but cultural expression, production, and circulation more generally. The central contribution of Edmond’s book is the articulation of this cultural “iterative turn” by tracing its development in poetry through the last sixty years.
This iterative turn coincides with significant changes in the availability and usage of read-write media: technologies such as tape machines and personal computers that not only “read” the information embedded in a media object, but also make it possible to record new information over the original. As such, media have become increasingly mobile and affordable, they have collectively lowered the threshold for reproducing words, sounds, and images. Coupled with technologies such as mimeographs or digital devices, these read-write media have ushered in an era of remix culture and small run publishing.
The proliferation and impact of these media on cultural experimentation, Edmond shows, is inseparable from the contexts of globalization that largely shape postwar history, such as postcolonialism, Cold War geopolitics, and the spread of late capitalism, under which consumption has famously become a form of production. This global scope is necessary, Edmond emphasizes, not just for the sake of continuing the critique of Eurocentric conceptions of modernity, but more specifically for demonstrating the multivalent and cotemporal development of copy culture. The device of copying has emerged as a cultural glue that holds different contexts together, where repetition is repurposed in different-but-similar ways for the sake of reflecting and even actively establishing different-but-connected subjectivities. To illustrate this point, the book’s case studies invite a number of poignant comparisons, for example, in the deployment of repetition to explore bodily and linguistic difference foregrounded in the experience of migration and diaspora (addressed in chapters three and four). The material and social conditions that make the iterative shift a global phenomenon also contribute directly to its aesthetics of multiplicity, helping to engender a “conceptual shift from the inviolate work born in one language, nation, and medium, to the multimedia, multiversion, multiauthor text” (6).
It was an incredible privilege to speak with Amber Rose Johnson, Huda Fakhreddine, and Al Filreis about Kamau Brathwaite’s “Negus” last November as part of the PoemTalk series. I’m so sorry that Brathwaite is not around to see the recording made public this week. It seems a long time since I visited Penn in November. It was quite a different world then with Brathwaite still alive and no pandemic to make travel to the US impossible. It was also before the latest wave in the ongoing uprising against racial oppression, an uprising to which “Negus” gives voice:
It is not
it is not
it is not enough
to be pause, to be hole
to be void, to be silent
to be semicolon, to be semicolony;
fling me the stone
that will confound the void
find me the rage
and I will raze the colony
fill me with words
and I will blind your God.
In the opening chapter of Make It the Same, I write about the same recording of these words discussed in our PoemTalk. I use this recording (of a reading at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City in 2004) to illustrate how Brathwaite made each reading and recording an occasion for an artful reworking of his existing poetic materials. Brathwaite’s ability to rework his poems to respond to new situations perhaps explains why his poetry continues to be so relevant in our current moment.