Using a new interdisciplinary approach funded by the AHRB Research Innovations Grant Scheme we studied the process of poetry reading using the empirical methods drawn from psycholinguistics. Previous research has shown that the reading process is genre-specific, i.e. readers make a genre decision and adapt their reading strategies accordingly. For poetry reading, findings suggest that surface textual features such as rhyme and layout weigh heavily in the categorization of a text as poetry. Our study extends this research by examining finer-grained distinctions, i.e. the reading of sub-genres within poetry. In a self-paced reading task, we tested readerly responses to the two sub-genres of narrative and lyric poetry, exemplified, respectively, by Byron's poem Don Juan and by Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. We had two research questions. The first, more general, question was whether sub-generic distinctions do indeed modulate readers' behaviour on-line. The second question concerned the role that rhyme and rhyme scheme may have in distinguishing between sub-genres, given the fact that such features have been shown to be highly reliable indicators of the poeticity of a text. We report evidence that on-line readers' behaviour is significantly modulated by differences between poetic sub-genres. However, rhyme scheme does not appear to have a special role in modulating these differences. We discuss the implications of these findings for a theory of poetry processing and for future interdisciplinary research.
- genre rhyme scheme psycholinguistics