School of Humanities
Ph.D., Princeton University, Comparative Literature
University of California, Irvine
400 Humanities Instructional Building
Mail Code 2650
Irvine, CA 92697
Lyric theory; the history of American poetry; the history of Black poetics; Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture; the History of Literary Criticism; Contemporary American Poetics
Bain-Swiggett Visiting Distinguished Professor in Poetry and Poetics, Princeton, 2021
National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, 2011-2012
Christian Gauss Award 2006
MLA First Book Prize 2006
Virginia Jackson is UCI Endowed Chair of Rhetoric . She is the author of Before Modernism: Inventing American Lyric ( Princeton University Press, 2023) and 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, 2010) and, with Yopie Prins, the co-editor of The Lyric Theory Reader: A Critical Anthology (Johns Hopkins UP, 2014). Her essays in historical poetics have appeared in Critical Inquiry, PMLA, New Literary History, MLQ, Victorian Poetry, Studies in Romanticism, Nineteenth-Century Literature, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She is one of the founding members of the Historical Poetics working group https://www.historicalpoetics.com
My work explores the intersection of lyric theory and the history of American poetry. In my first book, Dickinson’s Misery, I tried to think about Dickinson’s nineteenth-century verse practices in relation to the twentieth-century theories of lyric that determined her reception and circulation. The subtitle of that book is “A Theory of Lyric Reading,” and by “lyric reading” I meant that Dickinson’s multi-media, multi-generic poems were, over the course of a century and more, remade in order to fit a monolithic genre of poetry associated with lyric—or really, with an idealized notion of lyric that came to define all poetry—so much so that poetry became another name for it. This is the process I have called “lyricization,” and in that book I just meant that Dickinson became the poster child for the way many different forms of verse address (ballads and elegies and odes and hymns and drinking songs and valentines and epistles, etc) were eventually folded into a theory of lyric address that was universal, transhistorical, and imaginary. For my second project, The Lyric Theory Reader, Yopie Prins and I wrote a short book inside a large critical anthology of lyric theory in order to explain that argument inductively, by showing and telling what modern lyric theory has been. When that book was published in 2014, John Keene asked an important question: Why it is the academic version of modern lyric theory represented by that anthology so White? My third project on lyric theory is a response to that question. Before Modernism: Inventing American Lyric began as a book about the distance between nineteenth-century American poetics and modern lyric theory and became a book about the many ways in which Black poets of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries inspired the direction of modern poetics. As it turns out, racialization and lyricization worked together to produce the poetry now considered "lyric," to shift the reading of poetry from the genre of the poem to the genre of the person. That idea should surprise no one, but it should also prompt us to undiscipline the history and practice of American literary studies.
I am currently at work on a small book for the general reader called What Is Poetry?, and on a sequel to Before Modernism that covers the second half of the nineteenth century entitled The Poetry of the Future. At the moment, I'm also writing an essay on the contemporary poet Terrance Hayes.
2023 Before Modernism: Inventing American Lyric (Princeton University Press)
2014 The Lyric Theory Reader (with Yopie Prins) (Johns Hopkins University Press)
2010 On Periodization: Selected Papers from the English Institute, 2008 (ACLS Humanities E-Book)
2005 Dickinson’s Misery: A Theory of Lyric Reading (Princeton University Press)
Christian Gauss Award, Phi Beta Kappa
Modern Language Association Prize for a First Book
Journal Articles and Book Chapters (Selected)
2022 “Apostrophe, Animation, and Racism” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 48 Issue 4, Summer, 652-675
2022 “Old Lyric Things,” What Kind of Thing is a Medieval Lyric? ed. Nicholas Watson and Cristina Cervone. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
2020 “Historical Poetics and the Dream of Interpretation: A Response to Paul Fry, Modern Language Quarterly, 81:3 (September 2020), 289-318.
2019 "Poe's Common Meter," in The Oxford Handbook of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. J.Gerald Kennedy and Scott Peeples (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 121-139.
2019 “The Cadence of Consent: Francis Barton Gummere, Lyric Rhythm, and White Poetics,” in Critical Rhythm: The Poetics of a Literary Life Form (New York:Fordham University Press, 2019), 87-106.
2018 “’Our Poets’: William Cullen Bryant and the White Romantic Lyric,” New Literary History, 49:4 (Autumn 2018), 521-551.
2016 “American Romanticism, Again,” Studies in Romanticism, 55 (Fall 2016), 319-346.
2016 “Specters of the Ballad,” Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 71, No. 2, 176-196.
2014 “Longfellow in His Time,” Chapter 11 of The Cambridge History of American Poetry, ed. Alfred Bendixon and Stephen Burt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 238-259.
2012 “The Poet as Poetess,” The Cambridge Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Poetry, ed. Kerry Larson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press),54-76.
2012 “Lyric,” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Fourth Edition, ed.Roland Greene, et. al. (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 826-834.
2010 “Periodization and its Discontents,” Introduction to On Periodization: Selected Papers from the English Institute, 2008
2008 “Thinking Dickinson Thinking Poetry,” in The Blackwell Companion to EmilyDickinson, ed. Mary Loeffelholz and Martha Nell Smith (Blackwell Publishing), 205-221.
2008 “Bryant; or, American Romanticism,” in The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange, ed. Meredith McGill (Rutgers
University Press, 2008), 185-204.
2008 “Who Reads Poetry?” PMLA, vol. 123, no. 2, January, 181-187.
2008 “The Story of Boon; or, Parables of the Poetess,” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance , vol. 54, nos. 1-4, December, 240-268.
2005. “American Victorian Poetry: The Transatlantic Poetic,” Victorian Poetry, 43:2, Summer (Virginia Jackson, Guest Editor), 157-164.
2005 “Dickinson Undone,” Raritan (Spring), Vol. XXIV, Number 4, 128-148.
2000 “Poetry and Experience,” Raritan (Fall), Vol. XX, Number 2., 126-135.
2000 “Poe, Longfellow, and the Institution of Poetry,” Poe Studies. Vol. 33, numbers 1
and 2, 23-28.
Reviews and Public Writing:
2021 "Triptych for Lauren," Critical Inquiry Blog, July 19, 2021
2021 “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?” The Georgia Review, Spring 2021
2021 “The Poetry of the Past” (with Meredith Martin), Avidly, Los Angeles Review of
Books, February 18
2021 “The Poetry of the Future” (with Meredith Martin), Avidly, Los Angeles Review of
2015 “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time,” Los Angeles Review of Books,
2011 "Please Don't Call It History"
National Endowment for the Humanities, 2011-2012