Robert Zamsky

Professor of English - English - Humanities - Literature

Robert Zamsky
  • Phone: (941) 487-4391
  • Email:
  • Office Location: ACE 319
  • Mail Location: ACE 116

Ph.D., University of New York at Buffalo
M.A., University of Nebraska
B.A., Oregon State University

I work in poetics, meaning that I am interested in the history and theory of poetry. This is a field as old as Western culture itself, but I spend most of my time on American poetry written during the period from the end of the nineteenth-century to the present day. As I read, study, and teach poetry, I am constantly interested in the unexpectedly vexing question of what, exactly, it is – I mean, if you were to stumble upon a sheet of paper with some words on it, how would you tell whether or not it is a poem? One test: if you can identify with the workings of the words in a way very similar to how you might identify with the development of a song, then it’s pretty likely that those marks on the page are the words of a poem. In fact, I often tell my students that reading a poem is more like listening to music than it is like reading a novel. Just what I mean by that is a touchstone of nearly everything I teach and write.

My current research explores the relationship between innovative literary practice and music in post-World War II American poetry. Most of this work finds its way into my book project, Orphic Bend: Music and Innovative Writing, which treats a wide range of writers, including Charles Bernstein, Jayne Cortez, Robert Creeley, Nathaniel Mackey, and John Taggart. Exploring the relationship between poetry and music in avant-garde opera, jazz aesthetics, performance poetry, postmodern pastoralism, and the elegy, the book identifies an exciting strain in contemporary innovative writing that participates in ancient debates over what music is, where it comes from, and what it does.

Thesis Sponsorship
My thesis students generally focus on American poetry since 1900. I have overseen projects on topics including contemporary prose poetry, the political and philosophical underpinnings of experimental writing, poetry as performance, jazz poetry, the politics of race in experimental black poetry and music, and others; and, I have worked closely with faculty in other fields to co-sponsor projects exploring poetry and disability studies, musical aesthetics in the work of James Joyce, contemporary Cuban-American poetry, and others. Outside of English, I have also sponsored thesis projects in the Humanities on radio documentary, the publishing history of the zine, and digital poetics.

Recent Courses
Acoustic Machine: Modern Poetry and Music
The Black Mountain School / The New York School
Lines of Sight: the Ekphrastic Tradition from Homer to Today
The Poetry and Poetics of Place
Reading Poetry

Selected Publications
“Ezra Pound and Charles Bernstein: Opera, Poetics, and the Fate of Humanism.” Forthcoming in Texas Studies in Language and Literature.

“The ‘Umbilicate Ear’: Audition in Ed Roberson’s Lucid Interval as Integral Music.” Callaloo. Summer, 2010.

“A Poetics of Radical Musicality: Nathaniel Mackey’s ‘— mu’ Series.” Arizona Quarterly. Spring, 2006.

“‘A Narrative of Prepare for Saints’: Lyric, Narrative, and the Problem of Nationalism in Four Saints in Three Acts.” Modernism/modernity. November, 2004.