The articulatory dimension: poetry, the aesthetics of speech-sound, and the oral imaginary
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The materiality of poetic language, its sensuous dimension, has generally been understood as aural or visual—patterns of sound unfolding in time, or words arranged on the page in a certain way. But a poem also has a sensuous reality in the mouth due to the movements and sensations of uttering the sequences of speech-sounds that constitute the poem. This is the articulatory dimension of the poem—the patterns of shapes, movements, sensations, and gestures that a poem orchestrates in the mouth. How is our experience of a poem informed or conditioned by the activity of enunciating the speech-sounds that constitute it? As the first full-length study of this fundamental material aspect of poetic language, this dissertation argues that the articulatory dimension of a poem, i.e. the oral-tactile-kinesthetic sensations of its utterance, can be made to signify. My first chapter traces a history of articulatory thinking drawn from disciplines ranging from anthropology to linguistics to cognitive poetics and literary studies, and develops a conceptual framework for describing and analyzing the articulatory dimension. The framework I propose relies on articulatory phonetics to describe and appreciate the aesthetics of speech-sound in a precise and rigorous way. The second chapter comprises of a series of ‘case studies’ of specific speech-sounds, showing how the affective and symbolic potential of these phonemes grow naturally out of the phenomenological experience of their utterance, and then illustrating how these potentials are evoked in actual lines of verse from poets as historically and stylistically diverse as Shakespeare, Pope, Tennyson, Whitman, Dickinson, Eliot, Hughes, Stevens, and Plath. The case studies are interspersed with ‘interludes’ that fill in the developmental, anthropological, literary, and cultural history of speech-sounds that undergird the articulatory dimension. Finally, the third chapter examines how the oral physicality of speech-sounds has been imagined, mythologized, and valorized in the poetic imagination. Specifically, I show how the mouth in its activity of enunciating speech-sounds becomes a ground for figuration, a source of overarching metaphors for poetic inspiration, poetic utterance, and the poetic imagination in poets ranging from Shelley and Whitman to Frost, Stevens, Pinsky, and Seamus Heaney.