Hearing Things is a meditation on sound’s work in literature. Drawing on critical works and the commentaries of many poets and novelists who have paid close attention to the role of the ear in writing and reading, Angela Leighton offers a reconsideration of literature itself as an exercise in hearing.
An established critic and poet, Leighton explains how we listen to the printed word, while showing how writers use the expressivity of sound on the silent page. Although her focus is largely on poets—Alfred Tennyson, W. B. Yeats, Robert Frost, Walter de la Mare, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Jorie Graham, and Alice Oswald—Leighton’s scope includes novels, letters, and philosophical writings as well. Her argument is grounded in the specificity of the text under discussion, but one important message emerges from the whole: literature by its very nature commands listening, and listening is a form of understanding that has often been overlooked. Hearing Things offers a renewed call for the kind of criticism that, avoiding the programmatic or purely ideological, remains alert to the work of sound in every literary text.
Angela Leighton’s Hearing Things is as good as her previous book on poetic form—which is to say it’s terrific—and illuminates a great deal about the sound effects of poetry that cannot be disentangled from its page-sense.
[Full] of immense grace and critical intelligence…A book about beauty and a perhaps unfashionable defense of the beautiful as a reason for poems to exist.
Understanding the role of sound helps you get at how a poem or piece of prose manages your aesthetic response…[Hearing Things] is a wise, suggestive reminder to readers to keep an eye on the ear.
This is one of those rare books where we find ourselves changing our approach to how we read even as we’re reading. On every page, Leighton works skillfully to demystify how sound works in literature and how we can pay better attention to it.
To my professor friends in the humanities (the ones who haven’t given up): Angela Leighton’s book will help you remember why you took this path in the first place. While its primary audience is lit-folk, it will speak to scholars in many disciplines if only they’re willing to lend an ear…I dare you to read ten pages without stopping to copy several arresting bits.
Leighton shows us that what separates poetry from other things that humans make are those very moments when poems enact or allude to listening—hums, murmurs, echoes, incomprehensible language. Hearing Things is persuasive, ambitious, synthetic, clear, and powerful.
Many critics claim to engage in close reading, but nobody is as skilled as Angela Leighton at close listening. Heard through her ears, words sing and rhythms thrum on the page, making even familiar poems sound compellingly fresh and new. This approach makes Hearing Things something more than a traditional work of literary criticism. What Leighton offers us instead, as she ranges across poetry from the nineteenth century to the present day, is criticism as a form of play: inventive, witty, and joyfully experimental.
- 304 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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