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Reviewed by:
  • Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media by Jacob Edmond, and: Poetry Unbound: Poems and New Media from the Magic Lantern to Instagram by Mike Chasar
  • Bartholomew Brinkman (bio)
Mike Chasar, Poetry Unbound: Poems and New Media from the Magic Lantern to Instagram. New York: Columbia University Press, 2020.
Jacob Edmond, Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019.

Reviewer's disclaimer: I was given print-codex copies of both Poetry Unbound and Make It the Same upon my agreeing to write this review. I immediately used my home book scanner to generate digital iterations of both texts. I then read the resulting PDFs on my laptop, recording annotations on its touch screen, while also using the OCR text to make several global queries (original book copies were subsequently replaced on my bookshelf for later use). I copied and pasted quotes from this PDF into a Word document and drafted multiple copies before submitting (via email) my review to JMPS. While I believe this process introduced minimal textual corruption, my reading and writing practices were necessarily shaped by such remediations and are inevitably reflected here. [End Page 273]

As the title suggests, Mike Chasar's Poetry Unbound: Poems and New Media from the Magic Lantern to Instagram is promethean in its challenge to scholars of modern and contemporary Anglo-American poetry: "In focusing on the transmission and mediation of poetry by historically new, non-print media technologies, Poetry Unbound offers not just a counterweight or correction to the codex-based default settings of current poetry studies and related spheres of activity, but also argues for a comparatively expansive, even alternative history to poetry in the long twentieth century" (6). While poetry studies has in recent years increasingly considered the ways in which print (in the form of periodicals, book collections, anthologies, and archives) mediates the transmission of poetry, Chasar extends and complicates this exploration through his emphasis on non-print media and in doing so necessarily enlarges what should count as poetry and what strategies we might use to study it. Just as he expands the realm of poetry studies, Chasar expands media studies as well. As he explains, it's not just that remediation can help us to better understand poetry production and reception, but "poetry in fact has a long history of being a testing ground in the development, emergence, and cultural mainstreaming of new media and media technologies" (10). Not only is nonprint media central to the story of modern poetry, but poetry is also central to the story of modern media, necessarily reconfiguring such disciplines as film studies and media archeology.

Chasar foregrounds these twin challenges to poetry and media history through a chronological recounting of the long twentieth century, highlighting the emergence and popularization of multiple new media technologies that serve as sites of poetic presentation and reception. Chapter 1 investigates the protocinematic magic lantern in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, arguing for an early form of screen reading that favored the poem's stanzaic presentation as it staged longstanding religious tropes of illumination and fire. Chapter 2 focuses on Edna St. Vincent Millay's long poem, The Murder of Lidice, about the Nazi destruction of the Czechoslovakian town of Lidice in 1942, claiming that its cross-media circulation (in varying versions) in Life magazine, the Saturday Review of Literature, Harper and Brothers, Columbia Records, and NBC Radio quite likely made it the most widely distributed American poem up until that time. Moreover, multiple examples of subsequent interleaving and scrapbooking of Murder give glimpses into how readers would personally update and memorialize this so-called "occasional" poem. [End Page 274]

Chapters 3 and 4 take up the role of poetry in the silent and sound film eras. Chapter 3 focuses on Edwin S. Porter's adaptation of Clement Clarke Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in the 1905 The Night Before Christmas and D. W. Griffith's adaptations of Charles Kingsley's "The Three Fishers" in the 1910 The Unchanging Sea and Tennyson's "Enoch Arden" in the 1911 Enoch Arden. Such adaptations demonstrate that even...