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Importance of Sound in Poetry.

Marjorie Perloff and Craig Dworkin (eds.), The Sound of Poetry / The Poetry of Sound (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), Page 352, ISBN: 9780226657431.


The Sound of Poetry/The Poetry of Sound, edited by Marjorie Perloff and Craig Dworkin, contains a "super collection" of essays thrashing a new wave in twenty-first century American poetry. In her 2006 presidential address to the MLA annual conference, Perloff called for the discussion of sound in poetry as essential for a new age of technology. This book is a fulfillment of the direction Perloff wants to give to American poetry in today's age of high-tech sonic revolution.

Through this book, Perloff, along with Dworkin, is pushing the traditional methods of studying poetry to their limits and has introduced the new approach of sound structure to the study of poetry. What is sound in poetry? How does sound work in poetry? What is the poetry of sound? Why poetry of sound? These are some of the questions I want to address in my review of the present book. Sound in poetry, as Gerald L. Burns puts it in his blurb to this book "is not just one thing but an array of phenomena (noise, music, voices, echoes) at play in all varieties of poetic experience-innovation, translation, performance, even visual construction" (00). Poetry of sound explores the sound dimensions, which have been long 'discarded' or unexplored in the discourse of poetry working precisely "in the crevice between sound and language" (193). Unlike traditional practices in poetry which 'equate' 'lyric' to 'poetry' and look for subjective states and meanings in poetry, poetry of sound explores performative, visual and auditory qualities of poetic sound. In its exploration of sound dimensions, it does not disregard history and culture, but rather brings us to light how these qualities of sound can tell us more about our historical and cultural dimensions. For instance, Yoko Tawada's "The Art of Being Nonsynchronous" locates meanings of sound in "culturally coded body;" Ruben Gallo in "Jean Cocteau's Radio Poetry "shows the political and technological settings that make certain kind of sound perceptible; Charles Bernstein's "Hearing Voices," as Craig Dworkin puts it, "insists on the unique inscriptions made by individuals whose cultural positions are audible in their accents, aspects of voice that mark class, geography, gender, and race"(13).

Reading this book makes us feel that poetry of sound can also played a role of subcultural resistance against bourgeoisie politics and wars. To illustrate this case with an example, Steve McCaffery in his essay "Cacophony, Abstraction, and Potentiality" included in the book states: "In March 1915 [Hugo] Ball's friend and future Dadaist Walter Serner joined ... Hugo Kernsten and Emil Szittya, launched a prescient attack on the current military conflict per se but on the linguistic structures of the bourgeois institutions-religion, politics, the current cultural industry-that collectively composed a grammar of war" reflected in Apollinaire's Calligramme and F. T. Marinetti's Parole in liberta (121). McCaffery also mentions the Dadaist Hugo Ball resisting the "dehumanizing rhythms of the machine" and practices of ethno-poetics to exploit the "creative potential" of madness and insanity. Likewise, Christian Bok in "When Cyborgs Versify" shows how poems like "The Cyborg Opera" "respond to this modern milieu of global terror by combining, purely phonic effect, silly words from the popular culture of globalized capitalism...." (135). These cultural dimensions of poetry of sound, I believe, can give us an answer of our question why sound is so important in poetry. Why we need an alternative emphasis on sound than on subjectivity and meanings can be a matter of debate, but its aesthetic and cultural values cannot be denied.

Divided into three parts, each part of the book talks separately about one particular aspect of poetic sound. The first part "Translating Sound," talks about the constraints in the readability and translatability of sound. The essays in this part include those by Susan Stewart, Leevi Lento, Yunte Huang, Rosmarie Waldrop, Richard Sleburth and Gordana P. Crnkovic. The second part "Performing Sound" includes contributions by Nancy Perloff, Steve McCaughey, Christiana Bok, Charles Bernstein, Helen Aji, Craig Dworkin and Yoko Tawado. This part explores the interrelationship between sound and repetition, sound poetry and music, hearings and voices, sound and form, theatricality and sound The third part "Sounding the Visual" consists of essays by Susan Howe, Ruben Gallo, Antonio Sergio Bessa, Johanna Drucker, Min-Qian Ma, Brian M. Reed and Kenneth Goldsmith, and this part discusses the performative, visual and auditory qualities of sound poetry, signification of bodily movement in performance, and the influences that recording technologies made on "lyric voices."

The inclusion of sound structure in poetry from different cultures and languages, the contributors' perspectives on poetry from different parts of the world, and texts from medieval lyrics to the contemporary avant-garde make us feel not only an "explosion of modernism" in recent decades but also its extensions to all over the globe. The overarching point that the book makes is that if we are living in the age of sonic revolution, sound must be the major element under discussion in the discourse of twenty-first century poetry. No more meanings! No more subjectivities! Only SOUND!

Reviewed by Yubraj Aryal, Purdue University
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Title Annotation:The Sound of Poetry / The Poetry of Sound
Author:Aryal, Yubraj
Publication:Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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