Distant Reading Duffy

At the beginning of Graphs, Maps, Trees, Franco Moretti describes the process by which literary analysis has most frequently happened: scholars examine “exceptional” works piecemeal, using “close reading” which makes these texts “even more exceptional, by emphasizing the uniqueness of exactly this word and this sentence here.” If this has been the norm, then, he wonders what we would learn by examining “‘the large mass of facts'” (3).

You’ve already been asked to take the typical approach to analyzing Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry with a paper assignment that asks you, among other things, to close read select poems. For our final class project, then, we will be seeing what we can learn by reading the large mass of facts of The World’s Wife and Mean Time. We will see, in other words, what a digital humanities approach can add to our already rich discussions of her poetry and your own, individual analyses of the differences between the two volumes—differences which, again, Duffy herself brought to our attention.

To do this we will draw on the Voyant Tools developed by Geoffrey Rockwell, whom we’ve just been reading, and Stéfan Sinclair, as well as a few other approaches to see what we can learn about Duffy’s volumes and her language taken as a whole. We’ll then be reporting on our findings to the world.

Of course, it’s important to recognize that we might not learn anything new—let alone earth shattering—by taking this approach. That’s okay. We’re operating here under the principle of experimentation that has guided our class. As Rockwell puts it in “What is Text Analysis, Really?”, “Playful experimentation is a pragmatic approach of trying something, seeing if you obtain interesting results” (214). We’re out have fun and see if we find anything interesting along the way.

Of course, to start playing, we need a few things. The first of these is a digital copy of the volumes of poetry. We’ll be creating these ourselves. Prior to class on Tuesday, December 6, you must do the following:

  • Check the “Transcription Assignments” tab on the Duffy poems spreadsheet. I did my absolute best to make the workload equitable. Intro to DH Duffy poems  Google Docs
  • Add the full text of all the poems you’ve been assigned to this document. Make sure that you put the poems in the order that they appear in the proper volume. Please italicize the title of the poem.
  • IMPORTANT! Please note that before typing up your poems that you should do a Google search for it. Many of these poems are already posted around the Internet, especially on personal, poem-of-the-day type blogs. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with copying and pasting from these sources! However, please look over the text to make sure there are no errors, including punctuation.
  • For each of your poems, get a word and character count (both a count WITH and WITHOUT spaces). Do not include the title in this count. You can do this by selecting the text of the poem and then choosing “Word count” under the “Tools” menu. Duffy Poems Full Text  Google Docs 1
    Add the word count and character count as a comment to the title of the poem.
    Duffy Poems Full Text  Google Docs 3
    You can make comments from the “Insert” menu.
    Duffy Poems Full Text  Google Docs 2
  • Finally, before class on Tuesday, look at the Voyeur website and consider which tools will be most interesting for us to play around with.


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