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  • Recalling Recitation in the Americas: Borderless Curriculum, Performance Poetry, and Reading by Janet Neigh
  • Philipp Reisner

Recalling Recitation in the Americas focuses on the unexplored relationship between education history and literary form, and investigates the far-reaching effects of poetry memorization and recitation on the development of modern performance poetry in North America. In the first three chapters, Neigh analyzes the work of three celebrated performance poets who refashioned recitation for the sake of linguistic diversity and greater freedom from the constraints of written language: Mohawk author E. Pauline Johnson-Tekahionwake (1861–1913); African American author Langston Hughes (1902–67); and Jamaican author Louise Bennett (1919–2006). Neigh illuminates how the complicated legacies of these three poets as national icons obscure their similar approaches to resisting Anglicization. The fourth and final chapter, titled "Recitation Legacies in Dub and Indigenous Poetics," is dedicated to the dub poetry movement that began in the 1970s and that built "directly on Langston Hughes's rhythmic literacy and Miss Lou's Creole pedagogy" (130). Overall, Neigh's diachronic study of performance poetry offers a coherent account of the twentieth century, meticulously working from case studies of single poets, combined with detailed examination of the poetic movements of their time. This integration of transnational, minority, and genre studies is especially relevant to the field of poetry studies, since performance poetry and orality are often neglected as the field attempts to keep up with the growing output of poetry in print. It is also significant because Neigh has chosen to examine the work of individuals whose relevance extends beyond their role as performance poets. [End Page 409]

In the first chapter, Neigh argues that Johnson-Tekahionwake was instrumental in the later development of spoken-word delivery, a claim reiterated throughout the book (cf. 148–49). "Langston Hughes's Rhythmic Literacy" is the topic of the second chapter, which locates Hughes's performance poetry within the sociocultural context of the formation of the Black Panther movement, with a special focus on Hughes's youngest readers (61–92). Neigh contextualizes Hughes's children's reader The First Book of Rhythms, a fifty-page book teaching children how to recognize and decode rhythms in their environment through interactive exercises, as part of his educational approach and jazz pedagogy. Neigh emphasizes that Hughes's instructions also foster body awareness while one is reading (84–92). The third chapter ("Miss Lou Pedagogy and Mimic Women") continues this focus on education by demonstrating how Bennett's playful approach to mimicry within a postcolonial context provides a model for her readers to imitate in their own recitation of her poems (120). Overall, especially since Neigh believes that Bennett, Johnson, and Hughes "refashion recitation practices to abandon the burning deck of the classroom ritual" (14), it would have been helpful to the reader had she, at least in passing, touched upon the larger context of early twentieth-century education in the Western world and on reform pedagogy (14).

In chapter 4, Neigh examines the poetry of Lillian Allen, Mutabaruka, LKJ, Jean "Binta" Breeze, Janet Marie Rogers, and Annharte. This chapter is divided into smaller sections that explore the concerns of "Minor Transnationalism," "Dubbing over Memories," "Recycling Nursery Rhymes," "Negotiating Cultural Inheritance," and "Challenging Language Interference." She makes a case for the importance of consulting the oral archive of trans-national minority poetry. Neigh shows that the dub poetry movement's engagement with memory and technology may be related to methodologies in Indigenous poetry. Based on studies such as Chadwick Allen's monograph Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Native Literary Studies (2012), in which he argues that Indigeneity needs to be at the heart of comparative frameworks to displace settler interests from the center of intellectual activity and to produce new knowledge, Neigh builds on recent scholarly debate concerning reductive comparisons as a major pitfall in studies of Indigenous poetry. In light of Neigh's emphasis on the musicality of language, she could have devoted more space to the musical aspect of dub and the fact that lullabies are among the few...


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pp. 409-410
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