Processing Effort and Poetic Closure
Nigel Fabb (University of Strathclyde)
Abstract: Smith (1968) argues that poems may end with formal changes which produce an experience of closure in the reader. I argue that formal changes do not directly cause an experience of closure. Instead, changes in poetic form always demand increased processing effort from the reader, whether they involve new forms, shifts from more to less regular form, or from less to more regular form. I use relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson 1995) to argue that the increased processing effort encourages the reader to formulate rich and relevant thoughts, including the thought 'this poem has closure'. Closure is thus the content of a thought rather than a type of experience. I further argue that 'closure' is a term whose meaning cannot be fully understood, which makes the thought 'this poem has closure' into a schematic belief of the kind which Sperber shows has great richness and productivity. This is one of the reasons that the thought 'this poem has closure' achieves sufficient relevance to justify the effort put into processing the end of the poem.