I teach and write about premodern English literature. I am the author of Meter and Modernity in English Verse, 1350–1650 (University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming) and English Alliterative Verse: Poetic Tradition and Literary History (Cambridge University Press, 2016), which won the 2018 English Association Beatrice White Prize. With Irina Dumitrescu, I edited The Shapes of Early English Poetry: Style, Form, History (Medieval Institute Publications, 2019). I edit the Yearbook of Langland Studies with Alastair Bennett and Katharine Breen. My writing on literature, politics, and higher education appears in The Atlantic, Vox, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and elsewhere. In collaboration with my students, I am mapping Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and building a digital textbook for Middle English alliterative poetry.
My research focuses on meter and poetics (what makes poetry tick). I am especially interested in poetry from the medieval period, which has led to an interest in periodization itself. All of my scholarship deals in one way or another with the historicity of early English literature: its forms and cultural meanings, and how those are mediated by modern disciplinary study. In my work I write toward a historical understanding of literary forms. Specifically, I have proposed in various contexts that the history of literary forms generates the forms of literary history. These interests all converge on William Langland’s Piers Plowman, an enigmatic long alliterative poem of the fourteenth century.
My current project, tentatively titled Unheard Melodies: Apophatic Poetics in English Literature, concerns the paradoxical power of literature to represent what literature cannot represent: novels no one can read, lyrics no one can hear, syllables no one can pronounce, spaces no one can inhabit, experiences no one can have, and more. I call these “apophatic effects,” by analogy to apophatic (a.k.a. negative) theology. Premodern readers understood apophatic effects through metaphors of concealment embedded in the Latin nouns obscuritas and occultatio. My title alludes to John Keats’s “On a Grecian Urn,” which both performs and reflects on apophatic poetics.