Geoff U, Educator
It's always fun to read an academic tract in another field that I have no experience and history in, both to see how that field structures their arguments but also to see the tiny differences in method or interpretation that spark decades-long feuds and dominate the published literature. This book is an examination in the rise, over the past few decades, of the use of documents, citations, data, and other archival material to create (or entirely compose) poems. There seems to be a split between more academic, intellectual, conceptual poetry (one example is Kenneth Goldsmith's complete transcript of one day of the NY Times or a complete record of the broadcast utterances from a Yankees-Red Sox game). The other, more politically oriented branch, often called documental poetry, uses the found source material to highlight an important issues, whether it's Claudia Rankine's use of collected microaggressions in 'Citizen' or Mark Nowak's use of mine safety records, news articles of mining disasters, and grade school lesson plans created by the American Coal Foundation in 'Coal Mountain Elementary.' It's unclear to me how typical of Humanities scholarship Leong's book is, but in a way his rhetoric matches his subject - he has lots of texts (from theorists like Walter Benjamin or Derrida to other poetry-focused academics) all chopped up and in conversation with each other. As best I can tell, he's attempting to take the academic conceptual poetry / politically-engaged documental poetry divide and make a synthesis, but rather than sticking with the similarities in method he attempts to make a case that the more conceptual poems are also engaged in political action. I can buy that conceptual poetry was a reaction to the trend toward incredibly personal, lyrical, and emotional poetry, but as an outsider I don't really buy his claim that the conceptual poetry is as politically engaged as the explicitly political documental poetry. That said I learned a ton about this type of poetry, I feel like I better understand 'Citizen,' and I'm excited to get a copy of 'Coal Mountain Elementary.'