This essay is a narrowly drawn exercise in comparison at a narrow passage of marine transit—the Panama Canal Zone. It argues that the spatial typology of the “zone” might supply one of the figures for a tropological history of comparative modernism at sea. The essay follows disparate works—by the Swiss avant-garde poet Blaise Cendrars, the West Indian writers Claude McKay and Eric Walrond, the Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal, and the American modernist poet Wallace Stevens—into the space of conflicts and disparities that characterizes the Canal Zone as a peculiar choke point of maritime globalization.

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