‘Here is my shameful confession. I don’t really “get” poetry’: discerning reader types in responses to Sylvia Plath’s Ariel on Goodreads

Amélie Doche, Andrew S. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

This article considers how readers engage with Sylvia Plath’s poetry collection Ariel (1965)–deemed as particularly ‘difficult’–on Goodreads, in the context of online amateur reviewing. George Steiner’s (1978) fourfold typology of difficulty (contingent, modal, tactical and ontological) informs our approach and leads us to explore the ways in which difficulty is talked about and dealt with, especially since the poetry genre faces resistance in educational settings, as Peter Benton (2015) points out. Our discussion stems from a qualitative analysis of 25 positive and 25 negative Goodreads reviews of Ariel, from which we derive an inductive typology of readerly attitudes. We find that, across the positive/negative spectrum, three readerly attitudes prevail that can be aligned with particular reader types: The Self-Deprecator, The Re-Reader, and The Senser. The Self-Deprecator emphasises their lack of poetic skills, which makes literary difficulty hard to overcome. The Re-Reader foregrounds their need to engage with Ariel further to increase their appreciation of it. The Senser focuses on the feelings and sensations experienced, which means that difficulty is not construed as a barrier to meaningful receptive experiences. We argue the above-mentioned categories enhance our comprehension of the wide array of readers discussing poetry online.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)976-996
Number of pages21
JournalTextual Practice
Volume37
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2022

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