I hope everyone appreciates the photographic skill involved in this shelfie – hiding the photographer in a picture containing a very shiny Christmas bauble isn’t straightforward! I feel like I’m easily identifiable from the books on my shelf anyway, though, as they’re all pretty typical reading matter for me. All of my research involves reading across disciplines and, more specifically, combining ideas and theories from cognitive science with literary-linguistic analysis. I work within the field of cognitive poetics, where we make use of research in cognitive linguistics, cognitive psychology, and aspects of neuroscience to try to understand the effects of literary language in the minds of readers. So, my shelfie contains as many books on cognition as it does books on literary criticism and stylistics.
Everything on this particular shelf relates to a book I’m currently writing called Poetry in the Mind. This is a monograph exploring the cognition of contemporary poetic style, so there are various collections on the shelf by contemporary poets, such as Jo Bell, Andrew McMillan and John Burnside, too. Each chapter of my book addresses a central poetic notion or feature of poetic style from the perspective of cognitive poetics, with the aim of shedding new light on established ideas about poetic creativity and language. The book examines how key concepts in cognition, such as situated simulation, world-building, deictic projection, embodiment, and conceptual blending, might extend our understanding of important notions in poetics such as metre, imagery, voice, and poetic form.
I’ve just finished writing a chapter on a poem called 1801 by Sinéad Morrissey from her 2013 collection, Parallax. You can see the full text and hear a lovely reading of it by the poet here. Morrissey channels the voice of Dorothy Wordsworth in the poem, so I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months reading Wordsworth’s Grasmere and Alfoxden journals, kindly lent to me by my colleague, Amber Regis, and also (temporarily!) on the shelf. I was interested to analyse how Morrissey echoes Wordsworth’s writing style in 1801 and to investigate firstly how such intertextuality is linguistically constructed and secondly how this language might be conceptualised by readers of the poem. I even ended up dabbling in a little light corpus linguistics (in which I’m not anything nearing an expert) in order to establish that many of the lexical items in Morrissey’s poem are distinctive features of Wordsworth’s journals too. In corpus-linguistic terms, words like ‘afternoon’, ‘dinner’, ‘evenings’, ‘moon’ and ‘letters’ all score highly for their ‘keyness’ in Dorothy’s diaries; this means she uses them unusually frequently when her language is compared with a much larger corpus of written texts in English. I love how Morrissey includes these words to help capture Wordsworth’s voice and to cue existing knowledge structures about Wordsworth’s life and writings in the minds of her readers. I was particularly delighted when Amber helped me find where one striking image in 1801 – the ‘like herrings!’ line indented towards the end of the poem – directly links to an entry in Dorothy’s journal (see image).
All my most rewarding research adventures evolve out of interdisciplinary conversations like this, where I’m always trying to make fully contextualised literary-linguistic analysis cohere with the most up-to-date knowledge available on the workings of the human mind and brain. I’m coming to the end of a semester of research leave right now and trying to wrap up lots of these ideas in time to eat, drink and be properly merry over the Christmas period. It feels like I’m winding up rather than winding down at the moment, but I reckon I’ll deserve a double helping of Christmas pudding and an extra large sherry if I make my next deadline.
Happy interdisciplinary Christmas!