The Introduction to A Poetics of Criticism (1994) concludes with the statement: ‘literary criticism, if it is to achieve greater generative significance as a cultural creation, needs to … become the subject of its own engagement, giving itself over to the dangers and fluidities and challenges of that possibility’.[i] In their Introduction to Creative Criticism, Stephen Benson and Clare Connors are similarly critical of the academic essay and call for a  ‘writing which seeks to do justice to what can happen – does happen; will happen; might or might not happen – when we are with an artwork’ .[ii]Their primary focus is on the essay as a pedagogical tool, and this derives from their sense that something is lost in the current assessment practices of the academy: the current instrumental emphasis on getting a degree to get a well-paid job drives out any sense of ‘the passion and lostness and wonderment of reading’ (2).

This section of the Creative Criticism blog is not addressed to the critical essay but to another discourse; poetics. More specifically, it is addressed to the poetics of the innovative poetry that comes out of the modernist and late-modernist tradition. Poets in this alternative tradition are necessarily involved in a theorising and contextualising of their practice. It is interesting that at least 4 of the 14 writers included in the Creative Criticism anthology are poets: Anne Carson, Peter Gizzi, Denise Riley, and John Wilkinson. However, not all writing by poets is necessarily poetics. ‘Poetics’ has been usefully defined by Robert Sheppard as ‘the product of the process of reflection upon writings, and upon the act of writing, gathering from the past and from others, and casting into the future, speculatively’.[iii] It is a writing that looks backwards critically in order to move forwards creatively. It is, to use another of Sheppard’s formulations, an ‘active poetics ‘, working to delineate ‘a poetry that is “as yet largely unwritten”, to encourage writers to take up its challenges’.[iv] It is not ‘a theory of poetry’, but rather ‘a necessary sorting out’ of the terms of agreement.[v]

The editors of A Poetics of Criticism begin their Introduction by announcing that the essays contained in the volume were engaged in ‘exploring alternative modes of critical writing – essays in dialogue, essays in quotation, essays in poetry, essays in letters’. This blog will similarly welcome a variety of textual forms, but will also be open to work on poetics in other media.


[i] Juliana Spahr, Mark Wallace, Kristin Prevallet & Pam Rehm (eds), A Poetics of Criticism (Buffalo: Leave Books, 1994), 7.

[ii] Stephen Benson and Clare Connors (eds), Creative Criticism: An Anthology and Guide (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), 5.

[iii] Robert Sheppard, The Poetry of Saying: British Poetry and Its Discontents, 1950-2000 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2005), 195-6.

[iv] Robert Sheppard, ‘Theoretical Practice’, Pages 65-72 (March 1988), 65-6.

[v] Ibid.

On Poetics

On Poetics

Selected from the DuPlessis essay ‘On Poetics: pleasures, polemics, practices, stakes’ by Robert Hampson for this blog.

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