Listening to Reading

By Stephen Ratcliffe

Subjects: Poetry
Paperback : 9780791445044, 227 pages, March 2000
Hardcover : 9780791445037, 227 pages, March 2000

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations


. ..sound. ..shape. ..meaning. ..

Con( )Text

The Asymptote of Elsewhere


Writing [Echoes] Writing

Notes on Sound

Memo/ Re: Reading Stein

Reading (Cage) Silence

Writing/Re: Memory


Grenier's "Scrawl"

Mallarme: poem in prose

Listening to Reading

Sound (Shape) as Thought

Eigner's "Scores"

Idea's Mirror

Utter Mimesis

Writing A Reading

Cracking the Code

Reading Sun

Supernatural Duet


Axis of Simultaneities

The Landscapes (Body) of the Poem



Contends that "experimental" writing--from Mallarme, Stein, and Cage to contemporary poets of the eighties and nineties--can teach us much about how we write and read both poetry and criticism.


Listening to Reading presents two different kinds of writing about poetry—"critical analysis" and "performance"—both of which pay particular attention to sound, shape, and the relation of sound/shape to meaning. It offers a critical and performative presentation of experimental writing, also known as avant garde, postmodern, innovative, and language writing. Less concerned with labels than with asking how this writing works, it invites us to read from earlier works by Mallarme, Stein, and Cage to books published in the eighties and nineties by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, David Bromige, Clark Coolidge, Beverly Dahlen, Michael Davidson, Larry Eigner, Robert Grenier, Lyn Hejinian, Paul Hoover, Susan Howe, Ron Padgett, Michael Palmer, and Leslie Scalapino—writers whose work is viewed as difficult, and who have as yet been largely ignored by criticism.

Stephen Ratcliffe is Associate Professor of English at Mills College. He is the author of several books, including SOUND/ (system); Mallarme: poem in prose; and Sculpture.


"An important work, Listening to Reading manages both to explore texts that enact a more engaged reader response even as the manuscript itself enacts such a response. The discussion of difficult, ostensibly 'inaccessible' poetries cries out for a wider audience, and could have far-reaching impact on our general understanding of critical theory and practice. " — Joe Amato, author of Bookend: Anatomies of a Virtual Self

"The book's crossing of genres is innovative: a combination of critical and creative styles, of explanation and illustration. " — Krzysztof Ziarek, author of Inflected Language: Toward a Hermeneutics of Nearness

"The book is, in the end, more than interesting to read: it is inspiring. " — Jed Rasula, Queen's University