The words transnational and globalization appear frequently within scholarship on contemporary poetry, but so far there have been few sustained attempts to narrate recent developments across more than two language-groups or geographical regions. … In the present era of pervasive budget cuts, curtailed language instruction, and increased productivity demands, who has the training, time, and resources required to engage in even more broad-based comparative research?
At least one person can now be said to fill the bill. Jacob Edmond’s A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature recounts the history of avant-garde poetry from the late 1960s to the turn of the millennium in the United States, the People’s Republic of China, and the Soviet Union/Russian Federation. Edmond concentrates on six figures: Yang Lian and Bei Dao, menglong shiren (Misty Poets) who defied Cultural Revolution-era restrictions on writerly freedom; Arkadii Dragomoshchenko and Dmitri Prigov, samizdat poets whose careers extend into the post-Soviet period; and Lyn Hejinian and Charles Bernstein, founding members of the avant-garde movement known as Language poetry. Throughout, Edmond shows himself to be thoroughly grounded in the relevant literary traditions, and whether a given poem is written in English, Russian, or Mandarin, he proves able to supply the kind of intensive, patient, erudite textual analysis that one associates with the Yale school back in its heyday.
And Lisa Samuels’s “Bridges Across Silos“:
Jacob Edmond’s refreshing book focuses on concerns common to avant-garde poetry and comparative literature, specifically poetic material produced primarily in the 1980s and 1990s by six writers from China, Russia, and the United States and comparative literature’s interest in negotiating dialectics between self and other. Edmond’s introduction indicates his interest in sighting a ‘third alternative’ to Maurice Blanchot’s 1971 concept of ‘common strangeness’: Edmond wants to write within zones ‘between the common and the co-man, between speaking of others—of exile literature, modernism, or world literature—and speaking to them: responding to how we can know or write about each other in the first place.’ … The book stays true to the dialectical energy promised in its introduction. That energy shifts its sails in relevant directions, and it consistently concerns matters both brought forward and presumed as background to this work.
While many comparative literary studies have used textual and contextual analysis to examine authors and literary movements so as to show commonalities and differences, Edmond employs a different methodology. The domestic political and literary contexts, although a constant presence in the background, are only lightly sketched, and focus is directed on the concerns that have shaped the work of these authors in the world, as members of a transnational poetic community. Translation is yet another diffused activity that touches upon the selected creative and conceptual practices, providing an extra motive for gathering these poets together in this book.