Dunja Dušanić Lectures on Poetry as a Witness to Catastrophe

March 23, 2023

Join us on Thursday, March 23, at 1:00 pm in the Bryan Hall Faculty Lounge. Dunja Dušanić, associate professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Belgrade and a current Fulbright Scholar in the UVA English Department, will give a talk entitled "'What it's like to be an earthquake': Experience, Testimony, and Poetry."


Professor Dušanić introduces the presentation as follows:


Revisiting the old dispute between history and testimony, the philosopher Avishai Margalit wrote that even the most truthful chronicler, the “perfect historical seismograph,” who seeks to record the vibrations of history with the utmost accuracy, cannot “tell us what it is like to be in an earthquake.” For this, says Margalit, “we need a moral witness.”  His prime example of a moral witness, however, was a poet -- Anna Akhmatova -- who took on the role of a tormented mouth/Through which a hundred million people cry and wrote a long poem about what it felt like to be the victim of mass terror and persecution. That poetry somehow gives us privileged access to these experiences has been a longstanding cliché of literary criticism, and yet the discussions of poetry’s ability to give voice to the unspeakable never go beyond a vague, at best metaphorical, understanding of how that happens. If we were to consider the notion of “poetry of witness” seriously -- as volumes of poetry coming out of the Ukrainian war invite us to do -- then we need to ask ourselves -- why are some poems experienced as testimonies, while others are not, and where do we draw the line, if there is one?


Dunja Dušanić is an associate professor at the Department of Comparative Literature and Literary Theory, University of Belgrade, and a Fellow of the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, specializing in witness literature. Her books include Fikcija kao svedočanstvo: iskustvo Prvog svetskog rata u prozi srpskih modernista (Fiction as Testimony: The Experience of World War I in Serbian Modernist Fiction, 2017), Sa silama nemerljivim: pesnici kao svedoci modernog terora (Against Immeasurable Forces: Poets as Witnesses to Modern Terror, 2021), and Yugoslav Literature: The Past, Present and Future of a Contested Notion (ed. with Adrijana Marčetić et al., 2019). She is currently working on a book on public elegy and the politics of mourning.

"Poetry, Place, Displacement" Symposium Gathers Distinguished Poets and Scholars

April 1, 2022

Please join us Friday, April 1, for "Poetry, Place, Displacement," a symposium hosted by the Center for Poetry & Poetics. The event will bring together several renowned poets, scholars, and poet-scholars to discuss such questions as: How do poems represent place and displacement? How do they differ from other ways of mapping place? How do they attest to histories of human and environmental dislocation? Following an afternoon of panel presentations and interactive dialogue, the symposium will conclude with a reading and reflections by the Jamaican poet Kei Miller, who won the prestigious Forward Prize for the best poetry collection of 2014. 

"Poetry, Place, Displacement"

Friday, April 1, 2022

2:00 - 6:00 PM

Brown College Tent

Free Admission

"Poetry and Race" Symposium Brings Poets, Critics to Grounds

October 5, 2018

Please join us Friday, October 5 for “Poetry and Race,” a symposium hosted by the Center for Poetry & Poetics. This event will bring to grounds a group of internationally renowned poets and scholars for a day of panel presentations and interactive discussion. It will conclude with a poetry reading and reflection by the Poet Laureate of Jamaica, Lorna Goodison.

Poetry has long been a crucial space for constructing and deconstructing racial identities. What can we learn about race from poetry, and poetry from race? How do national and transnational conversations about poetry and race intersect and diverge? Representing a variety of specializations, distinguished poets and scholars will compare insights into these and other questions.

Detailed schedule here:

Ardis Butterfield Lectures on "Medieval Lyric: A Translatable or Untranslatable Zone?"

September 25, 2018

Please join us on Tuesdsay, September 25 at 5:30pm in Cocke Hall Philosophy Library for a Distinguished Lecture in Poetry & Poetics. Ardis Butterfield, Marie Borroff Professor of English at Yale University, will give a talk on "Medieval Lyric: A translatable or untranslatable zone?” 

The role of such pioneering figures in medieval studies as Erich Auerbach and Leo Spitzer has been recently reassessed within the field of comparative literature, as part of a wide and growing effort, evident across many disciplines, to engage with the controversial claims of ‘world literature’. The terms of this reassessment have pointed to their multilingual and plurilingual immersion in languages while working as scholars in exile in Istanbul in the 1930s and 1940s, facing a world in which the nation and empire and war were all in urgent turmoil.  Spitzer’s version of ‘global translatio’ as seen through his article ‘Learning Turkish’ is marshalled by Emily Apter as an avant la lettre approach to a global literature that is ‘against world literature’.

This lecture proposes that not only Auerbach and Spitzer, but their primary topic of research – medieval poetry, and specifically the medieval lyric – has much more to reveal about notions of untranslatability than has yet been acknowledged in these debates. The medieval period is central to the current debate about comparative literature and world literature because it is saturated in plurilingualism in ways that are only gradually being acknowledged. Medieval plurilingualism performs a range of remarkable feats: first, it affirms the need to understand ‘global’ poetry as being centrally about languages and their relationships. Second, it both challenges and extends modern thinking about the global and language(s) because it is a period that is necessarily, and radically, heavily engaged in linguistic non-essentialism, in fuzziness, in rough translation. Third, it provides examples of lyric poetry where untranslatability is central, disruptive, and history-making.

Ardis Butterfield is the Marie Borroff Professor of English at Yale University, where she is also a Professor of French and of music. She has served as President of the New Chaucer Society from 2016 to 2018. She was elected Fellow of the English Association in 2012, and received the 2010 R. H. Gapper Prize from the Society for French Studies for her groundbreaking reappraisal, The Familiar Enemy: Chaucer, Language and Nation in the Hundred Years War (Oxford 2009). In addition to this important study, members of our community will undoubtedly be familiar with the following fundamental volumes: Poetry and Music in Medieval France (Cambridge 2002), Chaucer and the City (Cambridge 2006), and Performing Medieval Text (MHRA, 2017).


Virginia Jackson Lectures on "Becoming Lyric"

April 19, 2018

Please join us on Thursday, April 19 at 5pm in Minor 125 for a Distinguished Lecture in Poetry & Poetics. Virginia Jackson, UCI Endowed Chair of Rhetoric and Critical Theory in the Departments of English and Comparative Literature at UC Irvine, will give a talk on “Becoming Lyric” based on her influential work in historical poetics over the past two decades. Jackson's talk will trace the increasing capaciousness of the term “lyric” over the past few centuries, inviting us to contemplate the power and limits of this omnivorous generic category.

Virginia Jackson is UCI Endowed Chair of Rhetoric and Critical Theory in the Departments of English and Comparative Literature at UC Irvine. She is the author of Dickinson’s Misery: A Theory of Lyric Reading (Princeton UP, 2005), which won the Christian Gauss Prize and the MLA Prize for a First Book. She is the editor of On Periodization: Selected Essays from the English Institute (ACLS E-Book, 2010; Meredith McGill, series editor) and, with Yopie Prins, the co-editor of The Lyric Theory Reader: A Critical Anthology (Johns Hopkins UP, 2014). Her next book, Before Modernism: The Invention of American Poetry is forthcoming from Princeton UP. Her essays in historical poetics have appeared in PMLAMLQVictorian PoetryStudies in RomanticismNineteenth-Century Literature, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. In her current project, she is thinking about versions of nineteenth-century America in the work of a few contemporary black poets in the US. She is one of the founding members of the Historical Poetics working group (

UVA Poetry and the World

"Poetry and the World" Features Renowned Poets, Critics

April 6, 2018

Please join us Friday, April 6 for “Poetry and the World,” a symposium hosted by the Center for Poetry & Poetics. This event will bring to grounds a group of internationally renowned poets and scholars for a day of panel presentations and interactive discussion. It will conclude with a poetry reading and reflection by the British poet Daljit Nagra, whose Look We Have Coming to Dover! won the 2007 Forward Poetry Prize for the best first collection.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Nau Hall Auditorium


Detailed schedule here:

UVA Poetry and Poetics Culler

Jonathan Culler Lectures on "Theory of the Lyric"

October 26, 2017

Please join us on Thursday, October 26 at 5pm in Nau 101 for the inaugural Distinguished Lecture in Poetry & Poetics. Jonathan Culler, Class of 1916 Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Cornell University, will give a talk on “Theory of the Lyric” based on his recent important book of the same name. 

"What sort of thing is a lyric poem? An intense expression of subjective experience? The fictive speech of a specifiable persona? Theory of the Lyric reveals the limitations of these two conceptions of the lyric—the older Romantic model and the modern conception that has come to dominate the study of poetry—both of which neglect what is most striking and compelling in the lyric and falsify the long and rich tradition of the lyric in the West. Jonathan Culler explores alternative conceptions offered by this tradition, such as public discourse made authoritative by its rhythmical structures, and he constructs a more capacious model of the lyric that will help readers appreciate its range of possibilities.

"Theory of the Lyric constitutes a major advance in our understanding of the Western lyric tradition. Examining ancient as well as modern poems, from Sappho to Ashbery, in many European languages, Culler underscores lyric’s surprising continuities across centuries of change—its rhythmical resources, its strange modes of address, its use of the present tense, and the intriguing tension between its ritualistic and fictional dimensions. He defends the idea of lyric as a genre against recent critiques, arguing that lyrics address our world rather than project a fictional world and also challenging the strongly established assumption that poems exist to be interpreted. Theory of the Lyric concludes with a discussion of how to conceive the relations between lyric and society in ways that would acknowledge and respond to lyric’s enduring powers of enchantment."



"What is a Poem?" Symposium Kicks Off Poetry Center

March 17, 2017

“What Is a Poem?” is the inaugural symposium of the Center for Poetry & Poetics. Is a poem more like a song or a shipping container? What was a poem in the seventeenth century, and what is it in the digital age? Why poetry, anyway? Join our world-class speakers as they explore these and other questions. The symposium will conclude with a conversation with former US Poet Laureate Rita Dove.


Friday, March 17, 2017

The Rotunda Dome Room


Detailed schedule here: