Dr. Magdalena Kay

Dr. Magdalena Kay
Professor, & Honours Program Adviser
Office: CLE C359

PhD (UC Berkeley)

Area of expertise

modern and contemporary literature; Polish literature of Britain and Ireland


I received a B.A. (magna cum laude) in English from Harvard University in 1999, and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2007. I have been working at the University of Victoria since 2007.


I teach twentieth and twenty-first-century British and Irish literature. My recent undergraduate courses include surveys of modern and contemporary poetry (English 434A and 434B), surveys of modern and contemporary fiction (English 436A and 436B), an introduction to modernism (English 201), and a seminar on practical criticism (English 310). Recent graduate courses include a course on major poets of the twentieth century (English 560) and a survey of twentieth-century Irish literature (English 561).


My current research focuses on twentieth and twenty-first-century British and Irish poetry. I am, however, also interested in viewing this poetry comparatively, especially given how often it enters into dialogue with poetry from other places. I also have a strong interest in contemporary Polish poetry, especially that of Czeslaw Milosz.

My most recent book is entitled Poetry Against the World: Philip Larkin and Charles Tomlinson in Contemporary Britain (forthcoming from Routledge, 2018). This book begins with a premise: antagonism is often at the heart of great modern poetry. These two representative poets, who have opposite aesthetic ambitions yet are both considered paragons of Englishness, pitch their poetry against an inhospitable world. Both Larkin and Tomlinson refuse the consolations of religion, but is it possible to maintain a demystified sense of the aesthetic if one wishes poetry to be able to stand against the world? This book asks how they seek to redress an “age of demolition” through their poetry, and how their audiences react to the types of redress they propose.

My second book, In Gratitude for All the Gifts: Seamus Heaney and Eastern Europe (University of Toronto Press, 2012), examines the influence of Eastern European poets--in particular, Czeslaw Milosz, Zbigniew Herbert, Joseph Brodsky, and Osip Mandelstam--upon Seamus Heaney. It situates this influence within a broader discussion of how and why Eastern European poetry proved to be especially exciting to English-language readers in the Cold War period, and why a poet such as Heaney would participate in this enthusiasm.

My first book, Knowing One's Place in Contemporary Irish and Polish Poetry  (Continuum [Bloomsbury], 2012), compares contemporary poetry from Ireland and Poland, two post-colonies within Europe, with a particular focus on the theme of spatio-cultural belonging. It brings together Northern Irish and Polish poets who rebel against strict, conventional, and politically binding forms of identity, who are haunted by a sense of not belonging in their own homes, and who revisit (and sometimes criticize) their own claims of identity.

My articles have appeared in journals such as Comparative Literature, Comparative Literature Studies, An Sionnach, New Hibernia Review, Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, Polish Review, Studi irlandesi, The Humanist, and The American Scholar. I regularly review for World Literature Today and the Dublin Review of Books