Lucy Alford’s terrific Forms of Poetic Attention takes us from ancient Greek lyric to pre-Islamic poems in Arabic to modern German and French poetry to contemporary American and anglophone verse, both traditional and experimental. Its impressive range of material is matched by its meticulous nesting infrastructure, reproduced for dizzier readers in outline form at the introduction’s close. Alford’s readings are deft but modest, provoking small yet penetrating insights into poetic form, and they serve as legitimate models of close, critical reading for a time when “close reading” has largely lost its disciplinary meaning.

Alford’s book is like a modular series of pathways for honing one’s sense of poetry’s uses. Its governing argument is performed over and over rather than stated as a pithy maxim, but one can still extract straightforward, quotable lines from the introduction: “As event, the poem takes place in...

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