A Transnational Poetics
by Jahan Ramazani
University of Chicago Press, 2009
Cloth: 978-0-226-70344-2 | Paper: 978-0-226-33497-4 | Electronic: 978-0-226-70337-4
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226703374.001.0001


Poetry is often viewed as culturally homogeneous—“stubbornly national,” in T. S. Eliot’s phrase, or “the most provincial of the arts,” according to W. H. Auden. But in A Transnational Poetics, Jahan Ramazani uncovers the ocean-straddling energies of the poetic imagination—in modernism and the Harlem Renaissance; in post–World War II North America and the North Atlantic; and in ethnic American, postcolonial, and black British writing. Cross-cultural exchange and influence are, he argues, among the chief engines of poetic development in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Reexamining the work of a wide array of poets, from Eliot, Yeats, and Langston Hughes to Elizabeth Bishop, Lorna Goodison, and Agha Shahid Ali, Ramazani reveals the many ways in which modern and contemporary poetry in English overflows national borders and exceeds the scope of national literary paradigms. Through a variety of transnational templates—globalization, migration, travel, genre, influence, modernity, decolonization, and diaspora—he discovers poetic connection and dialogue across nations and even hemispheres.


Jahan Ramazani is University Professor and the Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English at the University of Virginia. He is the author of multiple books, including, most recently, Poetry and Its Others: News, Prayer, Song, and the Dialogue of Genres, also published by the University of Chicago Press.


“In A Transnational Poetics, Jahan Ramazani continues to address an obvious but persistent imbalance in the American academy’s understanding of world Anglophone literature. A distinguished success.”

— Michael North, University of California, Los Angeles

“With a wide scope and with vigor, Ramazani argues that these modern and contemporary poets are not only syncretic, inventive, and worth reading, they are also transnational: they don’t make sense unless we keep in mind their responses to conditions and traditions in more than one country. He is right, and his claim is important because it gives the academy good thematic reasons to pay attention to the formal inventions for which these poets should be known.”

— Stephen Burt, Harvard University

"Offering an insightful study of transnational poetics, Ramazani links modernity, transnationalism, and postcolonialism through a network of writers as they find themselves in a multiculture of global technologies and the remnants of the British empire....Enjoyable as well as important."
— Choice

"Ramazani's mission to reconsider poetry's transnational tendencies has been accomplished with perspicacity."—Journal of Philosophy

— Beerendra Pandey, Journal of Philosophy

“A volume breathtaking in its global scope and critical incisiveness. The spectrum of issues and poets treated in this book is nothing short of stunning….Given his enormous cross-cultural, cross-temporal breadth, it is all the more impressive that Ramazani is also adept at analyzing stylistic devices in individual poems—language, structure, imagery, voice, rhythm, allusion, and the like. Yet he grounds this analysis too in the writers’ transnational contexts….Whether on the global or the textual plane, Jahan Ramazani’s combination of multicultural erudition, keen insight, and critical ingenuity renders this book a masterful resource that will be consulted for decades.”

— ACLA, Harry Levin Prize Citation, 2011 winner

"A Transnational Poetics is welcoming, curious, throughtful, and eager to persuade. Ramazani is occasionally critical of scholars who insist on identifying the unique 'citizenship' of poems, but he seems optimistic that his colleagues will give up their national pradigms once they see what he sees. For many scholars, lyric interiority is inhospitable to global concerns. Ramazani pushes against this view by emphasizing transnational materials, histories, and techniques. . . . Thanks to Ramazani’s eloquent and persuasive book, we have a much richer sense of how transnationalism has shaped modern and contemporary poetry in English. If his book inspires us to read more poetry, as it surely will, it also urges us to change how we edit, anthologize, interpret, and teach it."
— Rebecca L. Walkowitz, Modern Language Quarterly

“A challenging and original book. . . . [Ramazani’s] examples are so captivating and illustrative that both specialists and general readers will enjoy reading [A Transnational Poetics] and will immediately recognise the importance of the book’s contribution to both the field of twentieth and twenty-first century poetry and transatlantic studies.”
— Journal of Transatlantic Studies

"Ramazani’s is a rich book, full of methodological insights and dazzlingly eclectic in the range of poets it presents, from all quarters of the Anglophone world."
— American Literature

"A Transnational Poetics ought to be required reading for any scholar of modern and contemporary poetry in English."
— Comparative Literature Studies

"The salient version of transnational cultural studies Ramazani advances will appeal to poetry critics as well as scholars working in a broad range of fields who are concerned with intercultural dynamics and the relationship between political and aesthetic structures."
— Journal of Modern Literature




- Jahan Ramazani
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226703374.003.0001
[poetry, globalization, poetic imagination, creolization, hybridization, poetic development, poetic innovation, contemporary poets]
This chapter examines what we can learn about globalization from poetry and from poetry about globalization. It discuses modern and contemporary poets' conception of the poetic imagination as transnational, a nation-crossing force that exceeds the limits of the territorial and juridical norm. This chapter argues that while creolization, hybridization and the like are often regarded as exotic or multicultural sideshows to literary histories of formal advancement or the growth of discrete national poetries, these cross-cultural dynamics are among the engines of modern and contemporary poetic development and innovation. (pages 1 - 22)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jahan Ramazani
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226703374.003.0002
[English-language poetry, cross-national influence, interstitial migrancy, humanistic subdiscipline, literary citizenship, poetic transnationalism, cultural boundaries]
This chapter examines the formal, historical and disciplinary consequences of cross-national influence and interstitial migrancy for English-language poetry in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It analyzes the methodological and political implications of reshaping a humanistic subdiscipline to reflect the intercultural energies and mobilities of cross-national literary citizenship. This chapter also discusses the role of poetic transnationalism in helping us understand a world in which cultural boundaries are permeable and read like imaginative citizens of worlds that ceaselessly overlap, intersect and converge. (pages 23 - 50)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jahan Ramazani
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226703374.003.0003
[poetics, imaginative travel, transnational identity, Langston Hughes, Elizabeth Bishop, Frank O'Hara, geographic displacement]
This chapter examines the specific types of poetic devices that enable extraterritorial imaginative travel and analyzes their implications for a poetics of transnational identity. It looks at the formal means by which some poets like Langston Hughes, Elizabeth Bishop and Frank O'Hara imaginatively travel through their works. This chapter also discusses the imaginative enactment of geographic displacement and poets' use of lines to cross, rupture and question what political and other kinds of normative lines would hold back. (pages 51 - 70)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jahan Ramazani
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226703374.003.0004
[mourning, nationalism, antinationalism, transnationalism, elegy, literary transnationalism, grief, Wilfred Owen, W. H. Auden, Denise Levertov]
This chapter analyzes how, why and to what extent nationalism, antinationalism and transnationalism intersect in poetry of mourning. It examines how the elegy might help in developing a taxonomy of the various forms of literary transnationalism and discusses the intercultural microcommunities of grief between mourner and mourned and the nation-crossing figurations of death and mourning. This chapter also analyzes the elegies of several poets including Wilfred Owen, W. H. Auden and Denise Levertov. (pages 71 - 94)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jahan Ramazani
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226703374.003.0005
[modernist bricolage, postcolonial hybridity, poetic transnationalism, Third World poets, intercultural poetic forms, modernism, monologic lyricism, Lorna Goodison, Kamau Brathwaite, Agha Shahid Ali]
This chapter examines the issues of modernist bricolage and postcolonial hybridity in relation to poetic transnationalism. It discusses Third World poets' use of intercultural poetic forms of modernism in their quest to break through monologic lyricism, to express their cross-cultural experience, despite vast their differences in ethnicity and geography, politics and history, from the Western modernists. This also analyzes the relevant works of Lorna Goodison, Kamau Brathwaite and Agha Shahid Ali. (pages 95 - 116)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jahan Ramazani
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226703374.003.0006
[postcolonial poetry, global modernity, Euro-American metropole, Harlem Renaissance, technology, alienation]
This chapter examines how postcolonial poetry responds to the technology, alienation and other features of global modernity. It compares this response to those of the more canonically modernist poetries of the Euro-American metropole and of the Harlem Renaissance. This chapter describes the shared alienation and mutually ambivalent response to the shock and creative potential of modernity on the part of canonical modernists by both the Harlem Renaissance and postcolonial poets. (pages 117 - 140)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jahan Ramazani
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226703374.003.0007
[decolonization, British Empire, postcolonial poets, Edward Said, cross-national affiliation, cultural resistance, Louise Bennett, Derek Walcott, Philip Larkin, Tony Harrison]
This chapter examines the poetic effects of the decolonization of the British Empire. The analysis uses Edward Said's ideas of cross-national affiliation and decolonizing cultural resistance. It describes how place was imaginatively creolized and translocalized by black British and other migrant and diasporic poets. It also compares the works of postcolonial poets such as Louise Bennett and Derek Walcott with those of British poets such as Philip Larkin and Tony Harrison. (pages 141 - 162)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jahan Ramazani
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226703374.003.0008
[postcolonial poets, black British poets, calypso singers, England, African culture, Caribbean culture, African diaspora, cross-geographic experience, migrant poetries]
This chapter examines how postcolonial and black British poets and calypso singers reimagined metropolitan England in relation to African and Caribbean cultures and histories. It discusses how black British poetry reconceived widely disparate geocultural spaces and histories in relation to one another and suggests that it provided expression and shape to a cross-geographic experience just like other postcolonial, diasporic and migrant poetries. This chapter also argues that the poetry of the African diaspora in Britain is both rooted and routed in particular landscapes, regional and interregional networks. (pages 163 - 180)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online