Derek Attridge’s latest book takes on nothing less than the “experience” of poetry. His special interest is in “the material practices whereby poetry was communicated to an audience or a readership” at successive stages in European history (3). In what circumstances was it performed, and what did it sound like? How did it appear on the page, and who got to read it? What were the means and mechanics of publication and circulation? Throughout there is a noticeable preference for speaking and listening over writing and silent reading, for poetry “out loud.” Attridge generally emphasizes live performance when possible or else, when not, dwells regretfully on its irretrievability.

After an introduction, things unfold in thirteen chapters: three on ancient Greece, three on ancient Rome and late antiquity, four on the Middle Ages, and three on the English Renaissance. The pageant includes Homeric rhapsodes and Norse skalds, post-Augustan recitations and Constantinian...

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