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This review is taken from PN Review 217, Volume 40 Number 5, May - June 2014.

Form, Narrative, Nature derek attridge, Moving Words: Forms of English Poetry (Oxford University Press) £35
The Contemporary Narrative Poem: Critical Crosscurrents, edited by Stephen P. Schneider (University of Iowa Press) US$42.50
robin g. schulze, The Degenerate Muse: American Nature, Modernist Poetry and the Problem of Cultural Hygiene (Oxford University Press) £41.99

Working at times toward a critical intersection between linguistics and literary analysis, Moving Words provides an intelligently balanced survey of form in English poetry, and, just as significantly, how an application of this formal analysis might be handled in critical development. Attridge is keen to avoid the critical implications of ‘New Formalism’ or ‘the New Aesthetics’, the former too stifled in its connotations of orderly or proper investigation (all trochaic top button and collar, no heart) and the latter too philosophically convoluted (suffering a Kantian hangover tied to notions of beauty and nature). Unencumbered by tags of critical lineage, he is instead driven to implement a level of attention which, unlike ‘the wooliness which all too often afflicts literary critics’ (p. 12) can restore questions of form, alongside and inseparable from semantics, as an invigorating force of poetic analysis. Rightfully wary of the boredom that is often sadly synonymous with metrical explication, Attridge consciously maintains a welcome level of clarity, avoiding jargon and spiced with plenty of poetic diversity.

Initially we are introduced to ‘Meaning in Movement’, a conceptual opening that becomes integral to realising – more sensitively – precisely how significant a formal approach can be. In addressing notions of ‘phrasal movement’ and repetition, Attridge swiftly demonstrates the manipulation, deferral and momentum with which meaning is communicated. In expressing these rudimentary elements of poetic understanding it becomes readily apparent just how far the currents of critical impulse have drifted from these concerns. While many of the points seem akin to introductory observation, ...


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