Jack Vespa

Assistant Professor of Practice's Profile Image
Assistant Professor of Practice
350 Andrews Hall

Illinois State University, BS

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, MA

University of Utah, PhD

Areas of Specialty

Specialty: Literature of Sensibility and Romanticism; the Wordsworth Circle

Related Interests: Restoration and 18th-Century literature; Victorian literature; Modernist literature

Related Interests: 19th- and 20th-Century American literature

Selected Publications and Projects


“Veiled Movements in The Vale of Esthwaite.” The Wordsworth Circle 45.1 (Winter 2014): 62-65.

"William Wordsworth’s Poetry of Moral Sentiments." Journal of Ethics in Leadership 3.2 (2008): 103-117.

"Georgic Inquisitiveness, Pastoral Meditation, Romantic Reflexivity: ‘Nutting’ and the Figure of Wordsworth as Poet." Genre 38 (Spring/Summer 2005): 1-44.

"The Unsurveyed Interior: William Cullen Bryant and the Prairie State." American Transcendental Quarterly 11.4 (December 1997): 285-308.

"Another Book at the Wake: Indian Mysticism and the Bhagavad-Gita in I.4 of Finnegans Wake." James Joyce Quarterly 31.2 (Winter 1994): 81-87.


"Doug Underwood, Journalism and the Novel: Truth and Fiction, 1700-2000." New Books on Literature 19: An Online Review of New Books on English and American Literature of the 19th Century (September 2009): <http://www.nbol-19.org/view_doc.php?index=14>.

"Bob Hicok, Insomnia Diary." Prairie Schooner 80.2 (Summer 2006): 204-206.

"Apocalyptic Narrative and Other Poems, by Rodney Jones." Quarterly West 40 (Spring/Summer 1995): 214-220.

Creative Nonfiction

"Diary of a PhD" Continuum 11.2 (Fall 2001): 48.


My scholarship turns upon the idea of literary history. That is to say, I have been writing a version of the literary history that Romantic scholar Geoffrey Hartman first described in Beyond Formalism, which has since become an important critical focus. I am concerned, as he and many of my colleagues are, "with the idea of history by which men [and women] live; and especially with the idea of history by which poets have lived." Hartman observed then that "No one has yet written a literary history from the point of view of the poets—from within their consciousness of the historical vocation of art," and I think of myself as one who has answered Hartman’s call, striving to elucidate the "historical vocation" in the work of poets such as William and Dorothy Wordsworth, whose reader-based program for poetry marks a complicated intersection between the discourses of Sensibility, Sympathy, and Revolution. Most of my research efforts at present are devoted to completing a book manuscript—its working title is "A grandeur in the beatings of the heart": The Wordsworth Circle and the Post-Melancholy Condition—that concerns the psychology of self-representation in the poetry and prose of William and Dorothy Wordsworth.

I argue that these poets rework georgic, pastoral, and sentimental topoi so thoroughly that they generate a self-reflexive subjectivity that transcends these literary traditions, parleying the multeity of thought and feeling that infigures experience. By reworking these traditions, the Wordsworths re-imagine the figure of the poet, superseding contemporary narratives of a poet as prophetic bard or melancholy minstrel with one of a poet as confidante, who speaks to us much as if we are friend, lover, or sibling, rehearsing lyrics and narratives and improvising surmises in the process. William fashions a descriptive-meditative idiom that is grounded in a self-enacting sensibility, which owes something to contemporary theories of moral sympathy and allows him in some poems to model a process of self-reflection for his readers; Dorothy fashions a similar yet singular idiom of her own, grounded in a more self-effacing sensibility that allows her to foster an ethic of familial/communal affiliation for her readers. By reconsidering the Wordsworths’ reader-based program for poetry in the contexts of experimentation, sensibility, and sympathy, I demonstrate how they fashion a socially-responsible poetry—one that orients us to our local, national, and/or international communities, including our connections to these communities as well as the changes they and we undergo over time—rather than a self-indulgent poetry that turns upon a "wordsworthian or egotistical sublime," as John Keats once put it, and evades socio-historical matters.

Personal Teaching Statement

I consider myself a seeker, and think of teaching as a means of helping my students strive for an informed understanding of the world and their individual selves, which to my mind are some of the greatest goals that we can seek in this life. Saying as much reminds me of Hamlet’s words to Horatio, which I think are especially apt in this regard: "There is more between heaven and earth, Horatio, then is dreamt of in your philosophy." I ask my students to be humble and open-minded as we study the subject matter at hand in whatever course I teach. I put together rigorous yet worthwhile courses and favor a discussion-based format, in the belief that learning happens best in an environment of collaboration and cooperation. By proceeding in this manner, we become a community of learners interacting in an atmosphere of shared responsibility, seeking insight into the nature of things.