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  • Material Poetics in Hemispheric America: Words and Objects 1950–2010 by Rebecca Kosick
  • Lindsay Turner
Rebecca Kosick, Material Poetics in Hemispheric America: Words and Objects 1950–2010 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), 240 pp.

The academic study of literature has traditionally been structured by linguistic, hemispheric, or even national categories: Anglophone, North American, US, and so on. This partitioning has been especially present in the field of poetry and poetics, since poetry scholarship has often aimed at constructing genealogies, lines of influence, and national or even regional traditions. Yet there has also been a clarion call, in works like Jahan Ramazani's Transnational Poetics (2009), for the study of poetics to move beyond these paradigms of nationality and to attune itself to the ways poetic influence and literary movements unfold, in reality, across nations, ocean, and hemispheres.

Rebecca Kosick's Material Poetics in Hemispheric America: Words and Objects 1950–2010 exemplifies such transnational thinking. Taking up a set of writers and texts from both halves of the American continent—the Concrete and Neoconcrete movements in Chile and Brazil in the first half of the book, US poet Ronald Johnson's ARK and Canadian poet Anne Carson's Nox in the second—Material Poetics does not so much theorize what hemispheric poetics is as show us what expanding beyond national frameworks actually looks like. The book does not define a straightforward new genealogy or claim any relationship of influence between the former poets and the latter, but it does bring these writers together to make a strong claim about a body of poetry, material poetics, that comes into focus uniquely when viewed through this hemispheric lens. In addition to providing a necessary exploration of the claims of contemporary theories of objects—and the limits of those claims, when applied to poems—Material Poetics helpfully adds to the picture of what US poetry might (literally) look like, challenging scholarly and public conceptions of lyric's dominance and adding a long and enduring arc of material-based poetries as an alternative.

What is material poetics, as Kosick defines it? Kosick intends both a specific set of writers and artists and a general way of seeing poetry as matter: "poetry matters," she writes, in what is both a claim for the genre and a Heideggerian construction. "Poetry," she reminds us,

is something that takes up space. It's something that can be apprehended with the eyes, with the ears, and with the mind. Neoconcretism adds that poetry is something that can be touched. It can be recorded in a book, but it doesn't have to be. It can be recorded in a book, but it doesn't have to be.


Kosick's exemplary poems are both textual and not. The book's later, North American chapters include a standard codex made up of written words on paper (ARK) and a text-object [End Page 747] that, while boxed and folded rather than bound, nevertheless contains a more substantial engagement with the history of written verse than any other work examined (Nox and its reworkings of Catullus). Chapter 3, "Assembling La Nueva Novela: Juan Luis Martínez and a Material Poetics of Relation," centers on the poem / book / object written—or at least assembled, for his name is crossed out on the book's cover—by the Chilean poet in the 1970s and in which "poetry is words but is also pieces of plastic, fishhooks, and tape" (25). On the other end of the textual/nontextual spectrum is the Brazilian Neoconcrete poet Ferreira Guillar's 1959 "Poema enterrado" (Buried Poem), which was actually constructed in fellow Neoconcretist Hélio Oitcica's garden. Kosick quotes Gullar's description of the work as

a poem that could be a 3m × 3m room … buried under the earth. Readers would access this room via a set of stairs, would open the door of the poem, and would enter into it. In the anteroom preceding the poem itself, the reader-visitor would find instructions of what to do in order to activate the poem. Once inside the poem, reader-visitors would find a 50cm × 50cm red cube; once lifted, it would reveal a 30cm × 30cm green...


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pp. 747-749
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