Poetry reading is a topic about which there is always something more that can usefully be said. This book explores key aspects of poetry by discussing poems which are quoted in full and then treated in a sustained way. It considers a broad range of poetry, using examples taken from the Tudor period to the twenty-first century. Some are very traditional, and some are very avant-garde, and most are somewhere in between, so it is unusually broad and eclectic in its generic range. The book invites readers to cultivate generic generosity, and entertain a willingness to be astonished by the bizarre practices poets sometimes indulge in, in the privacy of their garrets, and among consenting adults. The emphasis is on meanings rather than words, looking beyond technical devices like alliteration and assonance so that poems are understood as dynamic structures creating specific ends and effects. The three sections cover progressively expanding areas. The first deals with such basics as imagery, diction and metre; the second concerns broader matters, such as poetry and context, and the reading of sequences of poems. The third section looks at 'theorised' readings and the 'textual genesis' of poems from manuscript to print. By adopting a smallish personal 'stable' of writers whose work is followed in this long-term way, a poetry reader can develop the kind of intimacy with authors that brings a sense of confidence and purpose.
Theory often eclipses the text, just as the moon's shadow obscures the sun in an eclipse, so that the text loses its own voice and begins to voice theory. This book provides summaries or descriptions of a number of important theoretical essays. It commences with an account of the 'liberal humanism' against which all newer critical approaches to literature, broadly speaking, define themselves. The book suggests a useful form of intensive reading, which breaks down the reading of a difficult chapter or article into five stages, as designated by the letters 'SQRRR': Survey, Question, Read, Recall, and Review. It explains the rise of English studies by indicating what higher education was like in England until the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The book talks about the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, Roland Barthes, and Jacques Derrida. It lists some differences and distinctions between structuralism and post-structuralism under the four headings: origins, tone and style, attitude to language, and project. Providing a clear example of deconstructive practice, the book then describes three stages of the deconstructive process: the verbal, the textual, and the linguistic. It includes information on some important characteristics of literary modernism practiced by various writers, psychoanalytic criticism, feminist criticism and queer theory. The book presents an example of Marxist criticism, and discusses the overlap between cultural materialism and new historicism, specific differences between conventional close reading and stylistics and insights on narratology. It covers the story of literary theory through ten key events.
This chapter looks at some prehistorical and historical examples of individual stone poems, and examples of stone poems grouped together in landscaped settings. It explores aspects of 'landmark' urban stone poems of Postcolonial Manchester. Alyson Hallett's pavement poem, with its 'outlying' word clusters, in Milsom Street, Bath, is public-art, Council-sponsored urban example. Stone poems have often been placed in groups or clusters within landscaped settings and forming a 'walk' or 'trail'. The chapter presents some examples of stone poems in settings which might not be considered places of outstanding beauty. The first is the monument in Dunraven Street, Tonypandy, in the Welsh Valleys, which commemorates the town's mining past. Sculpted by Howard Bowcott, working in collaboration with Tim Rose of the Bath-based landscape architecture firm Macgregor Smith and Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, it was unveiled in 1999.
This chapter talks about the textual genesis of the poem, including how it came to be written, how it modifies the generating facts, and how it reached its final form. It is possible to identify two opposed views on the matter. The first is based upon an evolutionary model of text production, seeing publication as the birth of the text, before which is an avant-texte period corresponding to embryonic growth. The second view of textual genesis is rather different. It views instability and the existence of multiple variations as the fundamental condition of the literary text, seeing, not a succession of drafts, each getting closer and closer to the final canonical text, but a network of notionally equal versions. The chapter ends with a more general comment on textual genesis.
A poetry reader can develop the kind of intimacy with authors that brings a sense of confidence and purpose, by adopting a smallish personal 'stable' of writers whose work is followed in the long-term way. This seems to be the best way of maturing and gaining pleasure as a poetry reader, or acquiring the necessary depth as a scholar or critic, if that is their aspiration or their on-going enterprise. A second way of achieving this goal is to keep a log-book or diary (or their electronic equivalents) of their reading in which they 'talk back' to the poets whose work they have adopted. Thirdly, an additional layer should be added to their 'stable', consisting of a couple of the best-known contemporary or historical poets, on whom there is a large or growing body of critical writing.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book aims to show that the meanings of poems are hardly ever deliberately or deviously hidden, nor are they usually encrypted in poetic devices like assonance or alliteration. A poem usually passes through various stages of development as it evolves towards its final form during the composition process. In the case of Neil Armstrong's 'poem', there is no known manuscript source, so the surviving audio-tapes of the event must be taken as its equivalent moment of origin. The book also aims to show that we do not have to tune into phonetic bat-squeaks from the hinterlands of language in order to read and appreciate a poem.
This chapter looks at Vicki Feaver's 'Ironing', Charlotte Smith's 'Middleton Church' sonnet and Roy Fisher's 'Sign Illuminated', trying to say something specific about poetic meaning. The success of the poem as a whole depends upon the complementary fusion of the 'showing' part in the main body and the 'telling' part towards the end. The extent of the reader's enjoyment and grasp of the poem will have a lot to do with appreciating the means and skillfulness of that fusion. The two aspects (telling and showing) are equally important to the construction of the overall poetic effect, even though they are not of equal length. The poetic effect as a whole is tightly shaped and crafted by the poet, and it is natural for poetry readers to be curious about how that process works.
A considerable mystique has gathered around the notion of the image in poetry, but the idea of the image is not in itself complex. A basic definition of the poetic image would be that it is an evoked object which is used to suggest an idea. In his book How to Read a Poem, Terry Eagleton considers the famous image which opens 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock', the first poem in T. S. Eliot's first collection, Prufrock and Other Observations of 1917. Eagleton sees this image as typifying the impact of modernism. Thomas Wyatt was the first English poet to make extensive use of the sonnet form, which he had encountered as a youthful aristocratic traveller in Italy. All the images in Wyatt's poem are readily comprehensible because they keep the object and the idea so rigorously separate.
It is quite unusual to find in print discussions of whole poems rather than parts of poems. This is perhaps the inevitable result of the continuing influence of the notion of close reading, in spite of lengthy periods in which the study of literature was dominated by literary theory and various kinds of historicism. The suggested reading and study process is in four stages: the first and third involve what we call the 'distant reading' of aspects of the whole poem, while the second and fourth concern the 'close reading' of parts of it. So the four stages alternate between distant and close reading, and the process as a whole can be represented in semi-diagrammatic form as follows: think about the flow, think about a point within the flow, think about the flow again, and think about a point within the flow again.
Feelings can only be implied by lines of poetry, and have to be taken on trust by the reader, for there is no way of knowing whether the sentiments professed are actually felt by the claimant or not. The example of the poetic representation of feeling is an early poem by Lee Harwood, who was influenced by the methods of the New York poets of the mid-twentieth century. The three levels of feeling within the poem are brought to light by the considered act of viewing and re-viewing the poem from the standpoint of these three different forms of feeling. They are, firstly, the pain of bereavement and loss, secondly, the continuing sense of loss of selfhood which is the consequence of his blindness, and finally, the sexual deprivation which is the result of the poet's widowhood.