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From: Narrative
Volume 22, Number 2, May 2014
pp. 151-153 | 10.1353/nar.2014.0012

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The essays in this special issue of Narrative offer a small sample of a growing field of study within narrative theory: narrative in poetic form. More precisely, the essays here investigate the potential intersections between the concerns of narrative theory and the concerns of poetry studies, using one to inform the other in a mutually productive discourse. Brian McHale’s essay “Beginning to Think about Narrative in Poetry” offers perhaps the most explicit call for new work in this field. Though he acknowledges from the outset that this work stands on the shoulders of a “huge body of precedent” (11)—from Plato to Bakhtin to Genette—this earlier work avoids addressing poetic narratives’ differences from other kinds of narrative. As McHale makes plain, “We need to begin thinking about narrative in poetry … because we have not been doing so very much lately, and because, whenever we have done so, we have rarely thought about what differentiates narrative in poetry from narrative in other genres or media, namely its poetry component” (11; emphasis original). When considering narrative poetry through the lens of narrative theory, one cannot simply brush aside the poetic aspects of the text. That seemingly obvious consideration of the poetic in concert and in communication with the narrative directs the critical work in the essays that follow.

With this larger objective in mind, this collection includes critical approaches that attempt to answer these questions about poetry’s position in and as narrative, considering narrative theory and poetic studies through a variety of methodologies—from rhetorical narrative theory to reader response to deconstruction—and with a range of poetic texts—from modernist poetic sequence to Romantic verse narrative to visual poetry. Peter Hühn’s essay begins the collection by exploring lyric poetry in either fictional or factual modes. Hühn situates the genre within larger fields of literary form in order to recognize lyric poetry’s ambivalent position between the two categories, as exemplified in his argument by the sonnet. Jason M. Coats then turns to Chistopher Isherwood and W. H. Auden’s problematically structured travel book, Journey to a War, in order to refine rhetorical considerations of the lyric by expanding theories of progression in lyric poetry. This refinement allows Coats to reconcile lyric poetry’s inherently weak narrativity with rhetorical narrative theory’s attention to judgment and the ethical implications of narrative form. Further investigating the narrative potential of lyric poetry, Stefan Kjerkegaard explores the ways that poetic form influences and interacts with narrativity and lyricality, as well as fictionality and non-fictionality, within the autobiographical lyric poem. Kjerkegaard employs narratological approaches to voice and narrativity in an effort to illuminate this understudied poetic genre.

Lasse Gammelgaard pays similar attention to the reader by situating poetic studies within the larger concerns of recent reader-oriented studies of narrative production. Building from early work in reader response theory, Gammelgaard investigates the characteristics of poetic and narrative tracks within narrative poetry and locates the reader at the point of interaction between these two tracks. Lewis S. Gleich considers the influence of sonic and visual elements on reader engagement with a textual narrative, refining discussions of the relationship between poeticity and narrativity by incorporating studies of phonetic and oculomotor functioning. While both Gammelgaard and Gleich employ works by John Keats in their essays and build from reader-response foundations, their poetic intersection at Keats reveals how these two approaches offer distinct methodologies that ultimately take narrative theory, reader response, and poetic studies in different directions.

My contribution takes an intermedial approach, surveying narrative’s capacity within visual poetry. First teasing out the form’s visual and poetic affordances, I then explore the material on which poetry appears, considering the ways that textual layout and textual surface enrich an understanding of narrative intermediality. Steven Nardi’s deconstructivist approach sheds light on the disruptive tendencies of poetry. Nardi examines the ways that poetic disruptions enrich current narrative theory by troubling distinctions between fabula and sjuzhet. The collection concludes with a conversation between Bruce Heiden and Brian McHale that returns us to a foundational question of this collection: can narrative theory enrich and be enriched by poetry? Heiden’s essay responds to McHale...

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