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  • Imagined Homelands: British Poetry in the Colonies by Jason R. Rudy
  • Elizabeth Howard (bio)
Jason R. Rudy, Imagined Homelands: British Poetry in the Colonies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), pp. xii + 247, $49.95 hardcover.

Jason Rudy's Imagined Homelands offers a compelling rereading of colonial poetry produced and circulated in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa by analyzing how emigrants used poetry to fashion "new colonial identities" and "negotiate the transition abroad" (2, 12). Responding to critics' contempt for the derivative quality of colonial poetry, Rudy offers an alternative account, arguing that the imitation, adaptation, and even direct borrowing of canonical verse in colonial poetry demonstrate the vitality of a developing colonial culture rather than an embarrassing example of unsophistication. Furthermore, Rudy refutes the assumption that colonial poetry merely participates in the act of cultural replication, and he spends the majority of his book distinguishing between poetry's role in the replication of British culture (which he considers a significant aspect of the colonial settlers' experience) and colonial poetry's role in expressing unique experiences that challenge the act of replication, often by means of [End Page 748] familiar forms and lyrics. Rudy is particularly interested in moments where the reproduction or adaptation of a poem serves not only to transform the poem itself but also to articulate a particular colonial perspective. In a series of close readings, Rudy re-evaluates the ways in which colonial poetry carries out the work of settlement.

Following Yopie Prins and Virginia Jackson in the methodology of historical poetics, Rudy relies on the historical situatedness of a poem to understand its meaning. Because he considers a poem's meaning as both "contingent and malleable," he identifies poetry's generic qualities, particularly its portability and print adaptability, as significant features of its cultural influence, alongside its structures, media, places of publication, and modes of circulation (7). In using the term "imagined homelands," Rudy primarily describes colonial emigrants' relationship with place as future oriented (that is, the land to which they will belong), but he explains that home for the emigrant is always a double gesture that looks both forward and backward. Rudy identifies six "frameworks" for negotiating between the past home and the future home and devotes a chapter to each (14).

Imagined Homelands begins by considering poetry written and printed onboard ships traveling to colonial spaces, arguing that the liminal status of the passengers ("not quite British, not quite colonial") is reflected in their often-parodic poetic revisions (21). Because emigrants used poetry as a means to exercise control over their transition, their imitative verse, Rudy contends, is better understood as a "self-conscious" recontextualization of the original poem (42).

In chapter two, Rudy argues that the canonical poetry revised, reprinted, or plagiarized in colonial spaces marks the first steps toward "establishing independent colonial cultures" (15). Rather than judge replications for failing to be authentic, Rudy identifies the emotional relief, pleasure, and comfort for British emigrants of encountering, familiar forms in unfamiliar places. He considers three scenes of colonial publication with three distinct modes of cultural engagement, from R. J. Stapleton's "copy-and-paste" to Adam Lindsay Gordon's "critical rewriting" (73). Rudy then analyzes the particular emotional effect of each scene.

Turning his attention to the role of sound in an imagined community, Rudy next considers the relationship between dialect poetry and its circulation. He examines the Scots in Toronto, the Cape of South Africa, and the Otago Province in New Zealand to showcase the range of cultural diversity within British emigrant culture. He argues that dialect, like poetry, is communally shared, recognizable, and portable. Consequently, dialect poetry becomes a powerful tool for fostering a collective feeling of being at home. This chapter also discusses the complex relationship between oral tradition and mediating structures like print for colonial poetry. Chapter four interrogates the overlapping ways in which the descendants of immigrants [End Page 749] used the term "native" both to signal indigeneity and to name second-generation colonial immigrants. Rudy's three case studies display the ambiguities and anxieties of belonging for the second-generation colonists who simultaneously endeavored to describe indigenous peoples in their poetry.



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