In the lives of poets, as in the lives of most other people, there has been a great change of consciousness worldwide over the last three or four decades. We have gone from a contest between capitalist West and communist East (with an ill-defined “third world” bending this way and that in the background); to the apparent dominance of capitalism and the market, even in officially “communist” China (with the rumblings of nationalist particularities in the background, especially in the Muslim world). We are also aware of how different cultural exchanges have become in the age of the internet, high-speed communication and a pervasive and internationally-marketed “pop culture”. With varying degrees of approval and disapproval, and with varying and competing definitions, terms like multiculturalism and globalism are now tossed around.
The debate over the “universality” of literature – including poetry – is not a new one, but it becomes more acute in this new global context. By definition, poetry is language, but languages are not universal. Traditionally, the universal was seen to be best expressed in the particular – hence, a poem “understood” worldwide was nevertheless rooted in a particular language and culture, and much of even the most “universal” poem was always untranslatable for those outside that particular language and culture.How are poets, especially avant-garde poets, responding when they are now – like nearly everybody else – also wired in to an international ‘global’ culture?
Nicholas Reid has reviewed Jacob Edmond’s study of world literature & contemporary Chinese, Russian, and American poetry, A Common Strangeness. Here’s how it begins:
Click on the image above for the full review.