The frontier between criticism and creativity has always been a rich, ambivalent, if occasionally fraught territory. At Prac Crit, it’s a space that we’re particularly interested in exploring. Maureen N. McLane traverses ‘amphibiously’ across the boundary, as Sarah Howe suggests in one of this edition’s four new interviews. Perhaps McLane – author of the hybrid experiment in autobiographical criticism My Poets – is unusual by contemporary standards in her ambition to operate in both hemispheres, or to undermine the distinction between the two. Published here for the first time, McLane’s poem ‘Mz N Hermit’ is, she says, her attempt to ‘distill some aspect of the way the Romantics move in me’, through a sort of skewed contemporary cento. Appropriate, then, that Jeff Dolven’s essay on McLane’s ‘Things of August’ is itself an act of creative witness, just as it is a rigorous critical response to the text.
‘Creative’ can of course serve in some quarters as a mealy-mouthed slur: think of that expression ‘being creative with the truth’, to take only the most readymade example. Festering beneath this pejorative sense of the word, a worse prejudice may lurk: the widespread dismissal of cultural qualities traditionally dismissed as fluffy, intuitive or emotional – in short, as feminine. Dorothea Lasky confronts such attitudes in her interview with Rebecca Tamás. She admits to a time earlier in her career when, cowed by the perceived – or literal – voice of male authority, she ‘didn’t celebrate emotion in [her] work but tried to cover it up’. The topic of male privilege is finally being thrust centre-stage in literary discussions, and Lasky’s words will chime with the many people who have already read and shared Claire Vaye Watkins’s watershed article ‘On Pandering’. Chipping away at the same set of macho critical preconceptions, Jack Underwood’s essay questions how we might be tempted to dismiss Lasky’s poetry as ‘cute’. In place of ‘cute’, he posits a fine, multi-angled irony, full of joy and difficulty and wit.
Jamie McKendrick is also a poet of cosmopolitan wit and smart playfulness. Here he talks candidly to Maya Popa about not fitting in, not feeling comfortable with either the lyric ‘I’ or the conventions of traditional form (despite returning time and again to both in his own writing), and wishing a plague on the houses of both mainstream and avant-garde dogmatists who would turn suggestive grey areas into diamond absolutes. Ahmed Badrideen’s essay on the title poem of McKendrick’s most recent collection, Out There, explores whopping questions at the intersection of science and the human spirit – questions that poetry can handle with particular deftness, precisely because of its ability to probe and experiment without arriving at definitive answers.
The two poems on either side of our Roddy Lumsden feature show how playfulness and suffering can coexist. In a major interview with Kathryn Maris about his new poem ‘Autism’, Lumsden broaches the pain and bewilderment of knowing that you’re different from other people: fundamentally different, that is; not in the trivial sense of ‘different strokes for different folks’. The poem’s precisely numbered lines place ‘Autism’ in a long tradition of Lumsdenian constraints and patterns, this time, perhaps, to a newly urgent, even mimetic purpose. Ian Cartland defines this side of Lumsden’s poetics as ‘a mind allowing itself to relapse a little, coping’, in his companion essay about an earlier work, ‘Water Street Drop-off’.
This edition’s Deep Note comes courtesy of Ahren Warner. We trust that its creativity will be plain at first glance. Since our first edition, we’ve been encouraging poets to use this series as an opportunity to tap into the febrile, subterraneous thought process that lies behind the composition of most poems. We were delighted to see Ahren let rip and blow that process wide open.