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Patterns of Exchange: Translation, Periodicals and the Poetry Reading in Contemporary French and American Poetry


This work offers a transnational perspective on the lively dialogue between French and American poetry since the 1970s. Focusing on the institutions and practices that mediate this exchange, I show how American and French poets take up, challenge or respond to shifts in the poetic field tied to new cross-cultural networks of circulation. In so doing, I also demonstrate how poets imagine and realize a diverse set of competing publics.

The work is divided into three chapters. After analyzing in my introduction the web of poets and institutions that have enabled and sustained this exchange, I show in my first chapter how collaborations between writers and translators have greatly impacted recent poetry in a case study of two American works: Andrew Zawack’s Georgia (2009) and Bill Luoma’s My Trip to New York City (1994). Following the trajectory of these works as they move through different contexts and languages, I investigate the shifting meanings of poetry as it circulates through various spaces. I also move outside the traditional paradigm of translation studies: rather than a comparative textual analysis, I examine how these poets respond to the new set of circumstances created by the institutionalization of translation.

In my second chapter I draw on two influential periodicals— La revue de littérature générale (1995-1996) in France and Chain (1994-2006) in the U.S.— to show how the periodical at once facilitates and troubles transnational exchange in contemporary poetry. I demonstrate that these two reviews redefine their respective poetic fields by working both within and against larger cultural institutions and technologies. I argue that each journal creates a new context for its poetry by defying larger structures of power, such as Jack Lang’s cultural policies in the case of RLG and the institutional forms of capital tied to the Poetics Program at SUNY-Buffalo and its use of the listserv with Chain.

In my final chapter I examine the influence of the American poetry reading in France. I argue that the reception of the poetry reading in France has given rise to new “oral-centered” writing practices. In particular, I show how Jacques Roubaud’s experiments with “improvised prose” and oral performance developed as a response to the professionalized, American-style poetry reading. Through my reading of Roubaud, I complicate the myth of the poetry reading as a more authentic experience of poetry and call into question established notions of orality.

The specific case studies of my dissertation open onto a field of larger questions concerning how modes of circulation in our globalized world are transforming poetry. These questions are further explored in a coda that closes my dissertation.

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