Lucy Alford

Feb 22, 2021

Forms of Poetic Attention

Columbia University Press 2020

In this episode, I interview Lucy Alford, professor of English Literature at Wake Forest University, about her book Forms of Poetic Attention, recently published by Columbia University Press.

Alford argues that, though poetry is ‘made’ of language, its main medium is attention, that poems act fundamentally as instruments for tuning and refining readerly and writerly attention. Following this assertion, Alford, through a wide variety of poetic readings (from al-Khansāʾ to Charles Bukowski, Sappho to Paul Celan—and many in between and around), breaks down the different modalities of attention that emerge in different poems.

The overarching dichotomy that Alford identifies differentiates between poetic attention that has an object—transitive—and another, more nebulous form without an object—intransitive. In each of these types, Alford further delineates dynamic coordinates, which are formal-semantic aspects of a poem that lead into various modes of poetic attention: contemplation, desire, recollection, and imagination for transitive; and vigilance, resignation, idleness, and boredom for intransitive. In crafting this lexicon, Alford not only provides a new theory for poetic analysis, but also expands the theoretical boundaries beyond the confines of the poetic. Instead, she argues, by paying attention to poetry as a subject and object of attention, poetry, through its requirement and production of attention, can train, hone, and refine our capacities for perception and judgment off the page, enabling us to become more attentive beings in a world that increasingly treats attention as a precious commodity.

Britt Edelen is a Ph.D. student in English at Duke University. He focuses on modernism and the relationship(s) between language, philosophy, and literature. You can find him on Twitter or send him an email.

Listen to more episodes on:

Your Host

Britton Edelen

Britt Edelen is a Ph.D. student in English at Duke University. He focuses on modernism and the relationship(s) between language, philosophy, and literature. You can find him on Twitter or send him an email.

Learn More

Also Hosted By Britton Edelen