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Personal profile

Research interests

Dr Wrighton’s research interests are in twentieth century American literature and culture, the study of poetic schools and movements in modernist and avant-garde poetry, and the “turn to ethics” in literary theory. Through creative and critical enquiry and in cross-disciplinary collaborative and archival work, his research explores the intersections between literature, society, ethics, and technological innovation, through perspectives from cultural history, ecology, philosophy, and literary theory. 

Dr Wrighton welcomes expressions of interest from prospective PhD students. (See University of Brighton Doctoral College for further information).

Scholarly biography

Dr John Wrighton is Deputy Head of School (Research and Enterprise) for the School of Humanities. He directs the strategic development of researchers in the humanities subjects (Literature; Language & Linguistics; History of Art & Design; History, Philosophy, Culture and Politics), and has served as Research and Subject Leader for Literature, and is currently Course Leader, MA Literature. During 2011-13, Dr Wrighton was seconded to the Modern Literature and Culture Research Centre at Ryerson University in Toronto, where he held the position of International Research Fellow.

In 2006, Dr Wrighton was awarded the Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Research Grant to undertake archival work at University of Connecticut (USA). Synthesizing his studies in ethical philosophy and post-structuralist theory with a pioneering new reading of post-war American poetics this project led to the publication of his acclaimed first book Ethics and Politics in Modern American Poetry (New York and London: Routledge, 2010). 

His research knowledge is disseminated regularly at major international conferences, in addition to guest lectures for prestigious institutions (including, Keele, Oxford, Westminster, Northampton, Surrey, Edinburgh, Ryerson University, Toronto, and Aberystwyth University). He has organised and chaired important gatherings in the field and has co-authored articles with world leading scholars, most recently with Tier One Canada Research Chair, Professor Irene Gammel.

Dr Wrighton’s research at the critical nexus of ideas between literature, ethics, and society, is motivated in synergy with a deep commitment to the idea of the university and the personal and social value of literary study. In 2014, in recognition of his professional and academic leadership, Dr Wrighton was accredited to Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. In 2009, he took a central role in a nation-wide HEFCW funded project supporting the enhancement of learning and teaching through the innovative use of digital technologies and he has been an ambassador for widening participation and social inclusion at institutions in England and Wales.

Through his leadership as International Research Fellow 2011-13 at the Modern Literature and Culture Research Centre (MLCRC) at Ryerson University in Toronto, and in his current post as Head of Research, Dr Wrighton actively supports the early career development of researchers and postgraduate students across the humanities. Recent collaborative projects include the expansion of the inter-departmental Centre for Contemporary Poetry across four universities and the co-ordination of its annual and international video-linked seminar series.



  • (2010) Ethics and Politics in Modern American Poetry (New York and London: Routledge) ISBN 0415801222

Articles and Essays

  • (2021) '‘Fear of the Blind’: Political Vision and Postwar Ethics in the Poetry of Denise Levertov', Literature & History. Vol. 30 No. 2, pp. 138-154. ISSN 0306-1973
  • (2021) 'A Theory of Organic Reading: Denise Levertov and the New American Poetry' in Matt Theado (ed.) The Beats, Black Mountain, and New Modes in American Poetry (Clemson University Press), pp.163-178
  • (2020) Review of Steven Belletto (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to The Beats (Cambridge University Press, 2017) in Notes & Queries Vol. 67, Issue 3. Oxford University Press, ISSN 0029-3970 (book review) https://academic.oup.com/nq/advance-article/doi/10.1093/notesj/gjaa123/5891832?guestAccessKey=b292baca-691e-403f-b953-420e399049bb
  • (2017) ‘Reading Responsibly between Martha Nussbaum and Emmanuel Levinas: Towards a Textual Ethics for the Twenty-First Century,’ Interdisciplinary Literary Studies: A Journal of Criticism and Theory. Vol. 19 No 2. Cultivating Humanity: The Literary and Moral Thought of Martha Nussbaum. pp. 149-170. Penn State University Press, ISSN 1524-8429
  • (2016) ‘The Textual Ethics of Dada: A Case Study,’ Textual Practice. Vol. 30 No 7. pp. 1-26. Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, ISSN 0950-236X
  • (2013) ‘”Arabesque Grotesque”: Toward a Theory of Dada Ecopoetics,’ ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. Vol. 20 No. 4. pp. 795-816. Oxford University Press, ISSN 1759-0962 (with Irene Gammel)
  • (2013) ‘Ethnopoetics and the Performativity of Place: Jerome Rothenberg and “That Dada Strain”,’ in Ian Davidson and Zoe Skoulding (Eds.) Placing Poetry (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi), pp.257-281
  • (2010) Nicky Marsh’s 'Money, Speculation and Finance in Contemporary British Fiction' in The European English Messenger, no. XIX, Issue 2 (Autumn 2010). ISSN 0960-4545. (book review)
  • (2008) Bethan Roberts’ 'The Good Plain Cook' in New Welsh Review No. 82 (Winter, 2008), pp. 81-83. ISSN 0954-2116. (book review)
  • (2006) Peter Middleton’s 'Distant Reading: Performance, Readership, and Consumption in Contemporary Poetry' in Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, pp. 182-185. ISSN 0742-5562. (book review)
  • (2005) ‘Expanding the Range of Reference’, in English (the journal of the English Association), Vol. 51, no. 208, pp. 72-76. Oxford University Press, ISSN 0013-8215

Guest lectures


  • 'The Ethics of Reopening and Recovery'. Pandemic Webinar Series. Modern Literature and Culture Research Centre (Ryerson University)


  • '"A Common Ground": American Poetics and Denise Levertov's Ethical Lyric.' Keele University, David Bruce Centre for American Studies, Visiting Speaker Program


  • 'The future of security? The changing shape of an academic career.' University of Oxford, University English Association Annual General Meeting


  • 'Denise Levertov: Material Poetics, Counter-Culture in Community, and the Alternative Press, 1969-1971.' University of Westminster, Literary Criticism and the Small Press Symposium 


  • 'Denise Levertov: Cross-currents in the Trans-Atlantic Avant-Garde.' University of Northampton, School of Arts, Research Seminar Series
  • 'Poetry and Revolution.' University of Surrey, English Research Seminar Series


  • 'The Ethical Turn: Ethics and Politics in Avant-Garde and Modern Poetry.' Modern Literature and Culture Lecture Series, Ryerson University, Canada
  • 'Ethics and Politics in Modern American Poetry.' English Literature Visiting Speakers Program, Edinburgh University


  • 'Technology and the Poetic Cityscape.' English Literature Research Lecture Series, University of Brighton


  • 'Environmental Ethics in the Poetry of Gary Snyder.' Department of English Visiting Lecture Series, Aberystwyth University

Conference papers


  • "‘You are eroded as war erodes us’: Rhetoric and Postwar Ethics in the Poetry of Denise Levertov”. Modernist Studies Association 21st Annual Conference, Toronto.


  • 'Underground and Alternative Press Collection: Radical Brighton' (with Lisa Redlinski, Library Manager, University of Brighton). University of London, Senate House Library.


  • 'Denise Levertov: A Trans-National Pilgrimage.' Poetics: The (next) 25 Years, State University of New York, Buffalo
  • '"The walls of the garden, the first light": Political Emotion in the Poetry of Denise Levertov.' Northeast Modern Language Association, Ryerson University, Toronto


  • 'Poetic Ecologies in New York Dada: A Case Study in Modernism's Urban Avant-Garde.' (with Professor Irene Gammel) British Association of Modernist Studies, Institute of English Studies, Senate House, London
  • 'Literary Ethics and the New Rhetoric: Jack Kerouac's "Spontaneous Prose" as a "Structure of Knowing" in On the Road.' Rhetoric as Equipment for Living, Ghent University, Belgium


  • ‘Modernity's Dialectic.' Literatures of Modernity Symposium, Ryerson University, Canada
  • ‘Maximus kinesis: Charles Olson and modernist women’s poetry.' Charles Olson 2010 Centenary Conference, University of Kent
  • 'The "Turn to Ethics" or, Political Commitment "After Theory".' English Subject Centre Literature Politics Study Day, University of Brighton


  • ‘Ethnopoetics and the Performativity of Place.' Placing Poetry Colloquium, Bangor University
  • ‘Frontier Testing: Re-thinking the Paradigms of Assessment’ (poster presentation). Gwella Launch Symposium: Good Practice in Technology-enhanced Learning and Teaching, Aberystwyth University
  • ‘Authorised Identities: Approaching Charles Olson through the Archive Collection’ (co-authored with Melissa Watterworth, Curator of Literary Collections, Dodd Center, University of Connecticut) Archive Fervour/Archive Further, Aberystwyth University
  • ‘Environmental Ethics in the Poetry of Gary Snyder.' Department of English, Research Seminar, Aberystwyth University


  • ‘Face Work: Bruce Andrews’ Poethical Praxis.' British Association of American Studies Annual Conference, University of Kent, Canterbury
  • ‘Poethical Praxis: Ethics & Politics in “Language Poetry”.’ British Association of American Studies Postgraduate Conference, University of Sheffield
  • ‘The Poethical Trajectory: Ethics and Politics in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry.' Rhetoric, Politics, Ethics, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
  • ‘Jerome Rothenberg’s Ethnopoetics.' British Association of American Studies Annual Conference, University of Cambridge
  • ‘The Horizon of the Poem and Postmodern Ethics.' University of Wales Postgraduate Colloquium, Gregynog, Newtown, Wales


  • ‘Gary Snyder’s Eco-poetics.' Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment Annual Conference, University College Chichester
  • ‘Questioning our Research Methodology: “Ways of Reading,” in the light of the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas.' University of Wales Postgraduate Colloquium, Newtown, Wales

Conference Organiser and Session Chair

(2019) “Poetry of the Post-War.” Seminar organiser (with Stephen Voyce, University of Iowa), Modernist Studies Association 21st Annual Conference (Toronto)

(2017) 'Contemporary British and American Poetics: the trans-Atlantic avant garde', Seminar organiser for English Shared Futures, Newcastle Civic Centre

(2016) Digital Research in the Humanities and Arts (DRHA) 20th Anniversary Conference, with Alan Bolden, University of Brighton

(2013) Modernist Poetry Criticism and the New Ethics, Roundtable organiser and moderator for Modernist Studies Association annual convention, Sussex University 

(2012) Poetry's Public, International seminar (featuring Canada's Poet Laureate, Fred Wah, Ryerson University Professor Dale Smith, and American poet, Hoa Nguyen) for Centre for Contemporary Poetry. Organiser & chair. Hosted at Ryerson University in Toronto, with a live transatlantic video-link across five universities (download the podcast flier here)

(2012) Poetry, Philosophy, and 'Creative Thinking', Introduction and Chairperson for Ryerson University, Faculty of Arts, Evening Lecture with Distinguished Research Professor in Philosophy, Christopher Norris

(2011) Technology and Modernity, panel co-organised and co-chaired (with Professor Irene Gammel) for Modernist Studies Association annual convention, State University of New York, Buffalo, USA

(2009) Gwella Launch Symposium: Good Practice in Technology-enhanced Learning and Teaching, Conference Organiser, Aberystwyth University. (See Gwella Project Report and the Nexus Good Practice website)

(2008) Writers and Writing, Conference Organiser for Universities of Wales Staff/Postgraduate Annual Conference, Gregynog, Newtown, Wales

(2007) Fragment: Cultural Histories and Vocabularies of the Fragment in Text and Image, Conference Committee Member, Aberystwyth University, Wales

(2004) Cityscapes: perspectives from modern & contemporary culture, Conference Committee Member, Aberystwyth University, Wales

(2004) SKIN: texture/textuality/word/image, Conference Committee Member, Aberystwyth University, hosted by Institute of English Studies, University of London, England


Citations and Reviews

Praise for Wrighton’s Ethics and Politics in Modern American Poetry (London and New York: Routledge, 2010) ISBN 0415801225

Thoughtful and copiously researched
- David Gewanter, Times Higher Education, 2009

An important and original piece of scholarly work, both literary and philosophical
- William E. Cain, Mary Jewett Gaisser Professor of English at Wellesley College

An insightful and nuanced account of the emergence of ethical trends in recent American poetics... Critically engaging… Wrighton’s conception of poethics providesEthics and Politics in Modern American Poetry with a clear organizational framework... excellent use of unpublished archival material and recent critical developments... a well-worked critical account of modern American poetry
- Alexander Howard, Textual Practice, Vol 25, 2011

Persuasively argued and thoughtfully researched, John Wrighton offers engaging analysis... The range of material is impressive, while each chapter builds toward a refreshingly unified view of post-WWII poetry -- one in which an "ethical turn" constitutes a formative and lasting aspect of American writing...

Both sophisticated and readable, "Ethics and Politics in Modern American Poetry" is an indispensable study for literary critics, university teachers, and general readers.
- Stephen Voyce, Assistant Professor of English, University of Iowa

Grants and Awards

(2011-13) International Research Fellow, Modern Literature and Culture Research Centre (MLCRC), Ryerson University, Canada

(2006) Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Research Grant, Thomas J. Dodd Research Centre, University of Connecticut, USA

(2006) Department of English Postgraduate Travel Grant, Aberystwyth University, Wales

Peer Review Committee Experience

(2015-20) Member, Academic Group, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Peer Review College 

(2015-) Member, Languages and Literature Subject Group panel, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) TECHNE Doctoral Consortium


(2017-) Journal of Visual Art Practice (ISSN 1470-2029), Peer-Reviewer

(2016-) English (ISSN 0013-8215), Peer-Reviewer 

(2016) Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice (ISSN 1364-2529), Peer-Reviewer

(2015-) Monograph reviewer for Palgrave Macmillan, Scholarly and Reference Division

(2015-) Modernism/Modernity (ISSN 1071-6068), Peer-Reviewer

(2013-) KB Journal: The Journal of the Kenneth Burke Society (ISSN 1930-0026), Peer-Reviewer

(2013-) Dada/Surrealism (ISSN 00849537), Peer-Reviewer 

(2011- ) C21 Literature: Journal of 21st-century Writings (ISSN 2045-5216), Editorial board

(2007-08) New Welsh Review (ISSN 09542116), Assistant Editor

(2006- ) Centre for Contemporary Poetry online journal, Editor

Professional Membership

(2014) Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

(2015) Member, JISC Learning and Teaching Experts Group

  • Modernist Studies Association
  • British Modernist Studies Association
  • Association for the Study of Literature and Environment
  • Modern Language Association 


(2019-20) Experts Panel member, JISC Digital Experience Insights (DEI) survey for researchers in HE

(2017-19) Advisory Council member, Institute of English Studies, University of London, School of Advanced Study

(2016) Panel member for Program Collaboration Approval Event, University of Northampton, with DEI College, Greece 

(2016) External Examiner, doctoral viva voce, University of Sussex

(2009) Report for Higher Education Academy Blended Learning Benchmarking and Pathfinder project, commended for dissemination via Evaluation and Dissemination Support Advisers: 'The Student Learner Experience: Eliciting and Embedding the Learner Voice in Processes of Quality Enhancement' 

Supervisory Interests

English literature; American literature; the novel; poetry; philosophy of ethics; critical theory

 I am accepting graduate students interested in any aspect of modern and contemporary literature. Feel free to e-mail me for more information about the PhD program.

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, Aberystwyth University

Bachelor, University of Southampton

External positions

Advisory Council member, Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London

1 Jan 201731 Dec 2019

AHRC Peer Review College

1 Jan 201531 Dec 2020

AHRC Techne Peer Review College

1 Jan 201531 Dec 2019

Learning and Teaching Experts Group, Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)

1 Jan 2015 → …

Senior Fellow, Higher Education Academy

1 Jan 2014 → …