- The Case for the Globality of Twenty-First-Century Poetry
Walt Hunter joins an ongoing movement in literary studies beyond regionalist and nationalist paradigms. Readers will find his book Forms of a World: Contemporary Poetry and the Making of Globalization a complement to Jahan Ramazani’s 2009 A Transnational Poetics, insofar as both critics read across hemispheres to make apparent the ways in which contemporary poetry filters and reimagines global circuits of exchange. The two differ in their theoretical commitments: whereas Ramazani draws on transnational studies, Hunter understands contemporary globality through a critique of capitalism. Accordingly, Forms of a World is the first to read Anglophone poetry of the late twentieth and twenty-first century alongside simultaneous developments in patterns of capitalist accumulation.
While he acknowledges the large-scale and long-term effects wrought by the capitalist world-system since its inception approximately five hundred years ago, Hunter understands globalization as an era of capitalism that is only decades old. It follows, then, that when Hunter calls a poem “global,” he means to imply nothing in particular about subject matter, circulation, or authorship. Instead, a global poem is, for him, one that belongs to a period beginning in the 1970s, when a new production and financial system marked by transnational accumulation emerged to supplant earlier, national [End Page 300] forms of capitalism. Following recent literary-historical treatments by Christopher Nealon and Jasper Bernes, Hunter begins with the assumption that these developments in the global economy are a central subject matter of the poetry written contemporaneously. In their work, Nealon and Bernes call on critics to consider the interpenetration of aesthetics and economics: when Hunter takes up their charge, he focuses on the evolution of traditional poetic genres during an era of global catastrophe. His book argues that the link between capitalist accumulation and poetic innovation is most pronounced when crisis requires poets to remake the formal techniques that they inherit.
To elucidate the imbrication of global economy and poetic form, Hunter synthesizes the interpretive methods usually oriented toward one or the other of those terms. Hunter refers contemporary phenomena that are the usual purview of social scientists—land dispossession, forced migration, economic precarity, and ecological catastrophe—to Anglophone poetry published since 1970. Believing that poems sense the rhythms of capitalist development long before those same rhythms can be measured empirically, Hunter argues that literary criticism is equipped with analytical tools as yet lacking in the field of globalization studies. Conversely, he considers poetic genres and forms—the ghazal, the ode, the ballad, and the prospect poem—in light of theories of global capitalism authored, by and large, well outside of departments of literature.
Each of the book’s four chapters is organized around a site of contemporary crisis in global capitalism: forced relocation due to land dispossession and securitization, exclusions of liberal subjectivity evident in state-sponsored discrimination and racialized violence, strategic destruction of collective forms of agency, and environmental damage wrought by over-accumulation. The poets who hold Hunter’s attention form an admittedly eclectic group. They cannot be classified according to a common social context, a shared commitment to a certain set of formal conventions, or a general thematic interest. Instead, what Hunter deems consistent among the poets in his study is that they organize discrete features of global crisis and attune them to literary effects.
For example, his first chapter, “Stolen Landscapes: The Investments of the Ode and the Politics of Land,” is an occasion to identify [End Page 301] a consistent protest between three groups of poems that might not otherwise be read together: Irish landscape poems by Paula Meehan, Mary O’Malley, Seamus Heaney, and Sarah Clancy; a small body of “block” and “grid” poems by Keith Sutherland and Anne Boyer written in response to the financial crisis of 2007–2008; and the oeuvre of Iraqi refugee Manal Al-Sheikh. These poems denaturalize the commodification and securitization of land, and when Hunter reads them, he discerns a materialist critique of dispossession. By considering these authors...