Great Writers Inspire at Home: Derek Attridge’s The Experience of Poetry (2019)

Books and writers’ biographies can differ widely, but the experience of reading bears many features in common that extend across cultures and across time. The imaginative and visceral responses generated by reading (aloud or silently) link us all.

Derek Attridge’s The Experience of Poetry: from Homer’s Listeners to Shakespeare’s Readers (OUP, 2019) finds that these elements in common include: the reader or listener’s attention span; the continuity or linearity of their focus; their sense of the performativity of the language they are processing, even in silent reading, and various aural and visual responses. These shape how we receive literary writing, here poetry, and how this writing speaks to us.

Derek Attridge is interested in the experience of hearing and reading poetry from the time of the Ancient Greeks to Medieval and Early Modern times, but though the material he discusses is largely European, and, later on, in particular English, the experiences of crafted language he discusses can be found in literary cultures across the world. NourbeSe Philip’s performance of her poem Zong! In the podcast included on this website, demonstrates many of the features that Attridge examines, including rhythm, pitch, incantation, and percussive effects.

In the podcast, four panellists from different areas of literary study respond to The Experience of Poetry, commenting on the aspects of poetic reception that interest them, and that the book highlights. Their responses are rounded off with a comment by the author himself, and some discussion with the audience, especially on reading and the body, and poetry in childhood.