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University of Iowa News Release


March 21, 2007

'Poetries' Symposium Aims To Expand Definition Of Poetry

Poetry isn't necessarily highbrow art. Lyrics to a rock song could be poetic. So could the "Roto Rooter" jingle. Or even a cheer at a football game.

"A Poetries Symposium" April 5-7 at the University of Iowa aims to expand people's understanding of what constitutes poetry. The free, public conference features a series of talks by scholars from the UI and other institutions.

"Poetries" will encourage participants to think of poetry as a wide range of cultural and language phenomena, not just the masterpieces one might study in English class. Poetic texts exist in unexpected places, like greeting cards or scrapbooks, on posters, or in messages read at weddings. Such poetry has value, even if it wouldn't make a poetry anthology or a discussion of great art, said Mike Chasar, a UI graduate student in English and co-organizer of the event.

"These other poetries affect how we see the world, help us form communities and relationships and influence how we use and think about language," Chasar said. "If scholars can write about 'Star Trek,' romance novels, and 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' - which they certainly have done - then why not about a full range of the way poetic language affects us as well?"

"One aim of the conference is to bring together what have been, until now, the largely disparate fields of cultural studies and the reading of poetry," said Dee Morris, professor of English in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) and co-organizer of the event. "By focusing on 'poetries' rather than 'poetry,' we aim to challenge the limits and expand the scope of both fields."

At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 5, keynote speaker Cary Nelson will present "When Context Is All: The Specificity of Popular Poetry" in Gerber Lounge in the English Philosophy Building. Nelson is the Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also president of the American Association of University Professors. Nelson's books include "Repression and Recovery: Modern American Poetry and the Politics of Cultural Memory, 1910-1945,"and "Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left." His next book, "When Death Rhymed: Poem Cards and Poetry Panics of the Great Wars" is forthcoming.

Several additional lectures will take place Friday, April 6.

At 1:30 p.m., James Sullivan will present "Poetry Broadsides: Looking at the Printed Poem, Holding It in Your Hands" in the Main Library, Room 2032. Sullivan teaches English at Illinois Central College. His interest is in American poetry of the mid- to late 20th century, especially poetry in unconventional publishing formats. Sullivan wrote a book titled "On the Walls and In The Streets: American Poetry Broadsides from the 1960s." He has also published articles on poets Gwendolyn Brooks and Robert Lowell.

At 2:45 p.m., Maria Damon will present "Poetry and Cultural Studies: (im)Plausible Pre-histories and Futures" in Gerber Lounge at the English Philosophy Building. Damon is an associate professor of English at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of many essays on poetry and poetics and the book "The Dark End of the Street: Margins in American Vanguard Poetry," and is co-editor of the forthcoming "Poetry and Cultural Studies: A Reader."

At 4 p.m., Robert von Hallberg will present "The Recovery of Sentiment in Popular U.S. Poetry of the 1940s and 1950s: Sinatra; Doo Wop" in Gerber Lounge at the English Philosophy Building. Von Hallberg is the Helen A. Regenstein Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. His books include "Poetry, Politics, Intellectuals," "Literary Intellectuals and the Dissolution of the State" and "American Poetry and Culture, 1945-1980."

The conference also includes a panel discussion, luncheon sessions and a screening and discussion of the Frank Capra film "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town." For a complete schedule, visit

Sponsors include the Department of English, the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, the Graduate College, the CLAS, the Project on the Rhetoric of Inquiry, the Center for the Book, the Department of American Studies, the Department of African-American Studies and the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students. Additional support was provided by the John C. Gerber and Roy J. Carver funds in the Department of English.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Nicole Riehl, 319-384-0070,; Program: Michael Chasar,, or Dee Morris, 319-335-0454,