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Chicago 2015

Prosody today: comparative perspectives on the study of verse


An international colloquium at the University of Chicago


March 7, 2015

Rosenwald 405


One of the major contributions of Slavic literary theory to the 20th c. humanities is the development of a rigorous methodology for the study of verse. In part inspired by the pioneering work of Andrei Bely on rhythmical variation among poets writing in the same meter, scholars closely associated with Russian Formalism (Boris Tomashevsky, Viktor Zhirmunsky, Roman Jakobson), among others, have forged ahead in the building of a scientific poetics of verse. A particular mark of the “Russian method” of the study of verse has been the rapprochement with linguistics as well as the employment of statistical methods, in many ways anticipating recent developments in digital humanities. Roman Jakobson (1896-1982), one of the founders of trans-national structuralism, was particularly influential in the propagation of rigorous methods in the study of poetic structures.

The colloquium focuses on the legacy of Jakobsonian poetics today. Our inspiration comes from the publication of Benjamin Harshav’s Three thousand years of Hebrew Versification: Essays in Comparative Prosody (Yale UP, 2014), dedicated to Roman Jakobson’s memory. Benjamin Harshav, who studied with Jakobson, has been one of the scholars closely associated with structuralist poetics in literary studies. The conference title echoes the name of the journal Poetics Today, of which Professor Harshav, currently Professor Emeritus of Hebrew Language and Literatures at the Departments of Comparative Literature and Slavic Languages and Literatures, is a founding editor.

One of the chief objectives of the colloquium is to bring back the spirit of fruitful collaboration between linguists and literary scholars that was the mark of the intellectual age of Roman Jakobson. At the same time, our event will convey the diversity of current approaches to the study of verse, all of which are in dialogue with the formalist-structuralist paradigm associated with Jakobson.

Convened by Boris Maslov and Thomas Pavel.




Colloquium schedule:


9:30-10:00 Breakfast (for all participants and audience members)


10:00-12:00 Session I: Aspects of Poetic Form: honoring Benjamin Harshav’s contributions to literary studies

Na’ama Rokem (NELC)

“Switching Accents, Switching Languages: The Harshav School of Hebrew Poetics and the Bilingual Archive”

Thomas Pavel (Comparative Literature, Romance & Social Thought)

“Robert Marteau and the French verse”

Boris Maslov (Comparative Literature) & Tatiana Nikitina (CNRS, Paris)

“Rhyme and rhythm”


12:00-1:00 Lunch (for all participants and audience members)


1:00-3:00 Session II: Linguistics of Verse

Paul Kiparsky (Stanford University)

“Indo-European Roots of the Hexameter”

Evgeny Kazartcev (National Research University “Higher School of Economics”, St. Petersburg)

“The rise of iambic verse in a comparative perspective”

Lev Blumenfeld (Carleton University)

“End-weight effects in verse and language”


3:00-3:30 Coffee break


3:30-5:30 Session III: Lyric prosodies

Rosanna Warren (Social Thought)

“Forms of Freedom: Anne Carson and David Ferry”

John Wilkinson (English)

“How to Speak to the Dead in Verse: W.S. Graham’s ‘Dear Bryan Wynter’”

Robert Bird (Slavic & Cinema and Media Studies)

“Meter, Revolution”


5:30 Reception



Co-sponsored by CEERES as well as Departments of Comparative Literature, Romance Languages and Literatures, Slavic Languages and Literature, and Committee on Social Thought.

The event is open to the public. If you believe you might need assistance attending this event, please contact Meredith Clason at or (773) 702-0866.

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