Prac Crit

Edition Nine

August 2017 - featuring poems and responses by:

Daljit Nagra

“I guess the whole of my collection is about being uprooted, in the sense that a question is an uprooted thing – it’s an elevated uplifted voice that wants to land at an answer. But by problematizing, creating questions, am I seen as a rooted person? Do I speak for a community?”

Emily Critchley

“A poem isn’t a purely intellectual exercise, though a lot of its pleasure might come from working out its meanings... there is more going on in a poem than can be reasonably understood or quantified: ‘singing and thinking are the stems / neighbour to poetry’ as Heidegger put it”

Michael Symmons Roberts

“Manchester is the cradle of capitalism and communism, it’s the birthplace of the computer, and has an extraordinary place in musical history, both classical and pop. It’s constantly myth-making. I was interested in how a city like that becomes a utopia and then falls.”
Deep Note

Kayo Chingonyi

“What is a poem but a record of something the poet cannot get past? A memory, an impression, a phrase, some musical quirk of language? These are the questions behind most of my poems and certainly ghost the poem I have found most difficult to write...”

Spring has given way to deep summer since our last edition appeared, but Prac Crit has not been silent. In the intervening months, we’ve put out a run of unmissable freestanding interviews with Ocean Vuong, Hoa Nguyen and Emily Berry. Recent weeks have also brought the welcome news that one of our poets, Harmony Holiday, has been shortlisted for the 2017 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem – following in the footsteps of Melissa Lee-Houghton last year. Holiday will be travelling from the US to perform her shortlisted work, ‘The City Admits no Wrongdoing’, at next month’s ceremony in London.

Our ninth edition opens in 1960s America, with Daljit Nagra’s ‘GET OFF MY POEM WHITEY’ imagining a commons of the global othered ‘across oceans’. In her essay on the poem, Anna Thomas considers its complex self-positioning within a black literary inheritance, revealing a facet of Nagra’s poetics we’ve not seen before. Ed Doegar’s probing interview investigates the shift of tone and emphasis in Nagra’s latest book, British Museum. Their conversation roams through questions of belonging, parody and ‘dressing up’ in poems: ‘The occupation of someone else’s language – and the pleasure of that.’

Susan Sontag’s essay, ‘Against Interpretation’, famously ends, ‘in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.’ Isabel Galleymore’s essay on Emily Critchley is alive to Sontag’s questions about interpretation, its scope to liberate or stifle. She discovers in Critchley’s work a kind of feminist negative capability, which finds pleasure ‘in the ambiguity of a text, just as it is found in the gender-ambiguous body.’ In her wide-ranging dialogue with Charlotte Newman, Critchley speaks about the currents feeding into a new long poem, ‘Ten Thousand Things’. These range from Heidegger to the Tao Te Ching, from environmental crisis to the feminist struggle to balance home and professional lives.

In our final feature, Michael Symmons Roberts talks to Andrew Dickinson about ‘Terra Nullius’, a poem from his new book out this month. Mancunia excavates the mythic dimensions of Manchester, a city made of both history and imagination, which in this poem – whose political climate feels eerily of our time – ‘shades through into a form of utopia or dystopia’. Dai George’s essay revisits an older poem of Roberts’s, ‘Your Eyes Tonight’, from 2004’s Corpus. Tracing Donne’s influence on the ‘teasing, argumentative, spiritual’ strain in his work, George asks, ‘How do we write about the enduring subjects of love, fidelity and desire, when all the enduring symbols feel used up or phoney?’

This edition’s Deep Note is supplied by Kayo Chingonyi, who recently returned to his natal Zambia for the first time in almost 25 years. His essay recounts the resurfacing memories and bittersweet reunions behind ‘Kumukanda’, one the poems to emerge from that trip. Chingonyi’s moving meditation on place and identity offers a curative vision of ‘the poem as a space in which I can exist in my fullness’.

Sarah Howe