Valley fold | the top left corner over to the right as shown. Crease well. Unfold the paper…
Oli Hazzard, Within Habit
Metaphors are interesting creatures. Students reluctant to ‘dissect’ a poem in class might be intrigued to discover the biological metaphor they’re calling on – the poem as a whole, intact, ‘living organism’ – goes back as far as Aristotle’s Poetics. The red-hot tongs of Jeremy Paxman’s poetry ‘inquisition’, meanwhile, might make those chloroformed frogs look like they have it easy. ‘Close reading’ (especially put next to Moretti’s ‘distant reading’) activates a different set of metaphors, to do with zoom and focus, intimacy and vantage point.
In the magazine’s design, I wanted to find a visual equivalent for these ways of imagining what we’re doing when we read poems. Origami came to mind early on: how folding and unfolding a sheet of paper – that play of two dimensions gradually emerging into three – might be a way of thinking about writing and reading poems, not as opposed processes, but as a sort of continuum. The shifting, geometric rays that grace these pages, as conceived by our designer Julian Mills, are somewhere between crisp origami folds and beams of illumination.
This first edition of Prac Crit shines a light on a selection of poems, several appearing here for the first time. James Brookes kicks off what will become a regular series of ‘Deep notes’: a chance for poets to reflect on what lies behind one of their poems. Brookes pioneers a new way – part diary, part photo-essay – of describing that most mercurial of events, the genesis of a poem: the long tail of his ‘Those Iscariot Motions’ spreads along a timeline from 1197 to 2012. Jack Belloli treats the work of another young poet, Dai George, in an essay that ponders the role of the occasional poem: written out of a soon-passed moment, how can it outlive its built-in obsolescence? Anachronism, or the sense of being out of one’s time, is an idea George considers from many angles in our interview on his post-credit crunch meditation, ‘Mergers and Acquisitions’.
Thinking about the layeredness of our histories, personal, national and poetic, this edition has one foot in the present and the other in the Renaissance. Gavin Alexander looks four hundred years into the past to reveal how American poet Jeff Dolven plays with tradition, and with the origins of lyric as sung to the lyre: ‘Collar bone, bent like a lyre, / or a coat hanger’. The disarming humour of Dolven’s poems is equally on show in his interview, which muses on metre as a ‘form of life’. With an ear tuned to echoes of Spenser and the sixteenth century, Sophie Read writes unsentimentally about the ‘exhaustive, exhausted love’ of early motherhood, as chronicled in Andrea Brady’s Mutability. We interviewed Brady about a new poem, ‘Song for Florida 2’, whose searing enquiries into race, justice and political language shape themselves around an elegy for US teenager Trayvon Martin.
The transatlantic flavour of this inaugural edition emerged by design, but other chimings happened by chance – the recurring emphasis on ‘song’, for example, or the poetics of motherhood. Aime Williams steps back from the biographical readings that greeted Brenda Shaughnessy’s Our Andromeda to discover in its opening poem, ‘Artless’, a kind of via negativa: what the New Yorker called her way of cutting ‘a world out of the cloth of lack’. Shaughnessy spoke to us about the ‘mystical’ experience of writing that poem in the wake of her son’s birth.
As we introduce this new journal, we hope you find in its pages things to savour over many visits: poems up close, poems unfolding.