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This review is taken from PN Review 101, Volume 21 Number 3, January - February 1995.

THE LOOK OF IT RICHARD BRADFORD, The Look of it: A Theory of Visual Form in English Poetry (Cork University Press) £25

The author of a study on the shaping of modern French poetry (of which PNR readers have had a foretaste) could not fail to welcome this counterpart to his own investigations. It too treats not so much the obvious visual forms of pattern poetry (the term preferred here to 'pictogram') but rather the ways in which poetry must be seen as well as heard in order to reveal its full potency. 'When we read, either silently or aloud but with a copy of the printed poem before our eyes, we experience both the progressive movement of language and its static visual configurations' (p.73)

Dr Bradford distinguishes at the outset between three types of poem and delineates his special interest: 'the purely graphic text such as the concrete poem from which speech and the univocal pattern are largely excluded; regular verse in which no essential tension exists between what we see on the page and what we hear; and the type of poetic effect which is the principal subject of this book, in which spoken pattern and spatial juxtaposition engage separately with the cognitive faculties of ear and eye and create two levels of signification within the same text.'

The principal examples to illustrate poetry of this third kind are drawn from the blank verse of Paradise Lost and the free verse of twentieth-century American and English poets, Cummings and Williams in particular, but also Eliot, Auden, Tomlinson and Hill. The case that critical attention needs ...


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