The Function of Criticism at the Present Time

I want to begin with three disclaimers.

First disclaimer: I am old enough to have experienced the discipline of close reading as a welcome escape from the nineteenth-century class-based belle-lettristic displays of critical taste that (in my memory, at least) provided the Introduction to so many Victorian poetry books I came across as a teenager.

It was that same critical training in close reading that freed me from Mathew Arnold’s intellectual slipperiness which engaged too much of my late-teenage years.

I hear that same voice of privilege in Boris Johnson’s performative flummery or Rees-Mogg’s combination of measured authoritative delivery and calculated carelessness about facts.

 ‘The fifty-two uses of honest and honesty in Othello are a very queer business; there is no other play in which Shakespeare worries a word like that.’ [iii]

Second disclaimer: In the course of my teaching career, I have kept going back to a debate between R. L. Stevenson and Henry James about ‘The Art of Fiction’. Stevenson’s essay, ‘A Humble Remonstrance’, very efficiently picks holes in James’ s better-known essay, ‘The Art of Fiction’.[iii]

It is a second essay, ‘A Gossip on Romance’, however, that I want to cite.[iv] This essay, which was part of the same exchange with James, begins by asserting that the reading process should be ‘absorbing and voluptuous’: ‘we should gloat over a book, be rapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal, our mind filled with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images, incapable of sleep or of continuous thought’ (119). For Stevenson, accordingly, the ‘great creative writer’, produces fictions in accordance with ‘the ideal laws of the day-dream’ (123).

Although I think Stevenson gets the better of James in these exchanges, nevertheless, it is James’s analytic novels, which push the reader out to a critical distance, rather than Stevenson’s invitations to the reader to project herself into the hero’s adventures, that I return to. The pleasure of attending to what is not being said in The Awkward Age; the enjoyment of the device of a character who only ever says ‘Oh’, but whose ‘Oh’ is rich with possible meanings.

Does reading fiction critically necessarily involve disenchantment? Is there not a sensuousness in such intellectual muscular work-outs? Does what Stevenson calls ‘the novel of character’ with its appeal to ‘our intellectual appreciation’ not have its own form of enchantment?[v] Or, to bring this up to date and to engage with contemporary views, does reading fiction necessarily require sympathetic identification – ‘relatability’?[vi]

 ‘It comes back to me, the whole “job”, as wonderfully amusing and delightfully difficult from the first; since amusement deeply abides, I think, in any artistic attempt the basis and groundwork for which are conscious of a particular firmness. On that hard fine floor the element of execution feels it may more or less confidently dance … .’[vii]

Third disclaimer. One of my particular areas of interest for the last few years has been practice-based research, and I am coming at the Creative-Critical from that perspective.[viii] One of the unintended consequences of the combination of research assessment exercises and the contemporaneous expansion of Creative Writing in the university sector has been the belated wider recognition of the research potential – and, indeed, the research function – of creative writing practices.

I have been involved with practice-based research as a practitioner, as a PhD supervisor, as an RAE and REF panellist, and, more recently, as a Foundational Steering Group member of PRAG-UK. My engagement in this field goes back many decades. As a practitioner, I would relate this to the project I undertook in the 1970s which produced the long poem Seaport.[ix]This project had its roots in my reading of classic modernist texts: Joyce’s Ulysses, Pound’s Cantos, Williams’s Paterson. It was also related to my reading of more recent and even contemporary works – in particular, Roy Fisher’s City and Allen Fisher’s Place.[x]

It was obvious to me that all of these writers were pursuing research projects, and there didn’t seem to me to be any problem in regarding a poetic project as a research project. It was clear to me that such a project was discursively different from the critical PhD which I was writing. It was also clear to me that such a project would involve finding the appropriate form for its inquiry and discovery.


Instead of a Thesis

I want to consider now three writers that were important to me in the 1970s, while I worked on Seaport and a PhD on Conrad.

The first of these is Charles Olson. Olson was, as he put it, ‘uneducated’ at Wesleyan, Yale and Harvard Universities. At the last of these, he didn’t complete the doctorate he started on American Civilisation, but instead undertook further research to develop his MA dissertation on Herman Melville into what became Call Me Ishmael (published in 1947).[xi]

These researches involved tracking down Melville’s dispersed library; finding the large-print edition which allowed Melville to read Shakespeare; and using Melville’s marginalia to make the case that Melville rewrote an earlier version of Moby Dick in the light of this engagement with Shakespeare. Olson’s study of Melville begins with ‘First Fact is Prologue’, an account of the fate of the crew of the whaling ship Essex after its collision with a whale in 1819, the year of Melville’s birth (7-11). This story was Melville’s model for the narrative of the Pequod.

The use of that word ‘Prologue’ prepares us for Olson’s dramatic performance over the next five parts – or five acts. These present the Pacific as an extension of the American West; space replacing time; an emphasis on whaling as an industry; various interpolated documents, and, of course, the importance of Shakespeare as a catalyst for Melville’s rewriting of Moby Dick to produce the version of the novel we now have. After 100 pages, Olson’s fractured argument concludes with three juxtaposed statements: ‘The Pacific is the end of the UNKNOWN which Homer’s and Dante’s Ulysses opened men’s eyes to. END of individual responsible only to himself. Ahab is full stop’ (110).

This cultural reading of Ahab links Moby Dick to the epic tradition, to those Phoenician mappings of the Mediterranean which Bérard claimed as the subtext for the Odyssey, a theory Joyce took over for Ulysses, and to Olson’s reading of American history as a westward progression to the shores of Asia, which clearly came out of his wartime experiences in government-level politics in Washington, which produced the testing out of the atom bomb on Japan, the Korean War, and then Vietnam.[xii] The text itself, however, concludes with a brief account of Proteus, the ‘son of the father of Ocean’, and the various shapes he took to avoid Aristaeus: ‘first a fire, then a flood, and last a wild beast’ (111).


The second of these writers is Walter Benjamin. The unpublished final issue of Alembic, the magazine I co-edited with Peter Barry and Ken Edwards through the 1970s, contains my review of Benjamin’s One-Way Street, a new translation of which New Left Books brought out in 1979.[xiii] One-way Street begins as a set of aphoristic paragraphs, each with its own heading (‘Filling Station’, ‘Breakfast Room’, No. 113’), suggestive of spatial mappings of streets, buildings, cities, landscapes.[xiv] These give way to headings that sound like advertising slogans (‘Germans, Drink German Beer!’, ‘Post No Bills!) and lists of theses: ‘How to Write Fat Books’, ‘The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses’, ‘Thirteen Theses against Snobs’) and a list of flower names with a statement about love attached to each.

In this work, Benjamin draws on a range of surrealist practices: psychogeography; attention to dreams and to objects; shock effects and discontinuous utterances; and lists. One-Way Street is in the tradition of Breton’s Nadja and Aragon’s Le Paysan de Paris. It is both a celebration of Benjamin’s love-affair with Asja Lacis and, as he put it, an attempt ‘to grasp the actual as the obverse of the eternal in history’, inaugurating the cultural critique of Paris that became the Arcades project.[xv]


The third of these writers is Roland Barthes – and, specifically, The Pleasure of the Text (1973; English translation 1976). This assertion of the jouissance of the text against what Richard Howard (in his prefatory ‘Note on the Text’) calls ‘the prudery of ideological analysis’ (vii) promoted, in my reading of it in the search for my own poetics, the dismantling of ‘the sacred armature of syntax’ and the death of the sentence (7); the dismantling of narrativity (9); and an awareness of the distinction between the text of pleasure that ‘contents, fills … that comes from culture and does not break with it’and the text of bliss that ‘unsettles the reader’s historical, cultural, psychological assumptions’ and ‘brings to a crisis his relations with language’ (14).

Barthes offers an account of the ‘body of bliss’ as a body ‘consisting solely of erotic relations, utterly distinct from the first body’ (16), that is, the body of the anatomist. By analogy, the text of bliss is similarly different from the text of grammarians and critics. My friend Peter Barry suggestively (if ambiguously) glosses this account of the body of bliss / text of bliss in the margin of his copy, which I find I have retained, as ‘how poets write about poetry’. Whatever Peter meant, I took this comment as a prompt and permission for my own annotations.

When Barthes then describes bliss as ‘unspeakable’ (‘it cannot be spoken except between the lines’ [21]), I find I have added a gloss referring to the poetry of Lee Harwood – thinking of Harwood’s use of fragments, juxtapositions, incomplete utterances in poems like ‘As Your Eyes Are Blue …’ or ‘Linen’.[xvi]Similarly, when Barthes discusses what he calls ‘writing aloud’ – as searching for ‘the pulsational incidents, the language lined with flesh, a text where we can hear the grain of the throat, the patina of consonants, the voluptuousness of vowels, a whole carnal stereophony’ (66) – I have added the tentative gloss: ‘Bob Cobbing?’.

Of course, it is clear that this passage itself (even in translation) is offering similar pleasures in its proliferation of phrases and its joy in its own cadences. In addition, the book offered another kind of pleasure: this was the peculiar pleasure of realising, in the original French text, that the table of contents was also an alphabetical list of topics from ‘Affirmation’ to ‘Voix’. I distinctly remember the shock of indefinable pleasure that was produced by this semi-scandalous handling of book-making conventions. It is like the pleasure found in the recognition of the use of procedures in creative writing and in creative critical writing.



Together, these three writers – writing unconventional forms of literary criticism, cultural critique and literary theory – fed into the urban poetics that I was consciously trying to develop in the 1970s. This urban poetics had its basis in a long-form poetry with its roots in the epic tradition; the epic as a poem containing history; the compressed urban epic of Joyce and Williams; the surrealist writing of the city; the lessons of collage and montage; fragmentation and fractured syntax; the use of found materials, chance and procedures.


One way in which ‘poets write about poetry’ (to return to Peter Barry’s gloss) is in the form of poetics, a discourse which Robert Sheppard has actively sought to promote for many years.[xvii] Olson’s ‘Projective Verse’ essay epitomises for me this particular form of creative critical writing.[xviii]

This essay comes out of Olson’s extended correspondence with Frances Boldereff and Robert Creeley.[xix] From the start it proclaims that expressive use of typography and the page-space that Olson had learned from Boldereoff, but it also displays that allusiveness and syntactic compaction found in the correspondence with Creeley that runs the risk of creating an esoteric coterie discourse. One element of this potentially esoteric discourse is the essay’s implicit dialogue with Pound’s ABC of Poetry. ‘I am dogmatic, that the head shows in the syllable. The dance of the intellect is there … And the threshing floor for the dance? Is it anything but the LINE?’ (19). This allusiveness points to one of the potential dangers of some forms of creative critical writing: where the absence of footnotes and a scholarly apparatus risks withdrawing the text from a wider readership.


When I used poets writing about poetry in teaching the ‘Postmodernism and Poetry’ module of our 1990s MA in Postmodernism, one of the arguments I used to make repeatedly was that the poets, in writing poetics, were not writing philosophy: that the point of this writing was for the poet to understand what they had done in order to produce further work; that such writing looked retrospective but it was actually oriented towards the future; that the ultimate test of such writing was not in its philosophical rigour and coherence, but in the poetry that it enabled the poet to produce.


Fact as Prologue:

I realise, now, that I have given a slightly misleading account of my critical activity, which needs correcting. What I need also to mention is my work on Conrad.

First of all, I have spent quite a lot of time engaged in textual editing and textual genetics. Although there have been different theories about the appropriate copy text, this is a practice where rigorous scholarship is the basic starting point. Does Conrad refer to ‘varnished sprits’ or ‘varnished spirits’ or ‘vanished spirits’ at the start of Heart of Darkness? Careful textual scholarship supplies the answer.[xx]

My first monograph on Conrad was a reading of all his fiction through a Laingian conceptual framework: I needed a rigorous theoretical model for the analysis of different aspects of the self and aspects of identity: identity for the self; identity for others; identification with an alterated identity.[xxi]

The second monograph was an historical formalist reading of Conrad’s Malay fiction, placing it within an English-language textual tradition of writing Malaysia, itself part of a history of colonial domination, but also placing British colonialism within a long history of various colonialisms and empires within the region: Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese; Indian, Arab and Chinese; Sulu and Bugis.[xxii]

My third monograph, another foray into historical formalism, came out of my many years teaching a third-year Conrad course and my sense of what students needed to know to understand specific Conrad texts: this included British war-crimes in World War 1; turn-of -the century financial scandals; the anti-immigration campaign that produced the 1905 Aliens Act.[xxiii]


I want to set this outline of my critical practice in relation to Conrad against three anecdotes:


First anecdote: I was teaching a first-year poetry class, and we were discussing an eighteenth-century poem about a clifftop church, whose graveyard was falling into the sea.[xxiv] The poet used the word ‘shells’ in describing the shore, and one of the students seized on this word and insisted that the poem was a war poem, even though (as I pointed out) ‘shell’ didn’t have that sense at that time. She insisted that any sense she could make of the poem was valid – and, presumably, that any poem (indeed, every poem) with the word ‘shell’ in it could be read as a war poem.

Second anecdote: In another poetry class, we were discussing the opening of Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’. I drew attention to the word ‘impress’ and how an eighteenth-century idea of the mind and perception was implicit in this word. I noted the reference to ‘vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods’ and mentioned homelessness in the Wye Valley in this period, the ex-soldiers from the Napoleonic war, and suggested that Wordsworth aestheticizes this social problem by referring to a hermit and hermits’ caves.

Was this a contextual enrichment of the reading experience: drawing attention to how language changes meaning over time; how ideas about perception change; how poets negotiate contemporary social issues? The students were aghast at the thought that they would need to learn about Lockean psychology, social history and the picturesque ‘for the exam’.

Third anecdote: My first institutional encounter with the creative critical came some twenty years ago, when I was approached by an American student who wanted to work with me on a PhD about black figures in European paintings: many of these appear as servants, maids, supporting figures. (The major exception would be the Three Magi in paintings of the Nativity – with Balthazar as a King of Arabia and Caspar as a king from India providing possibilities for black figures.)

I was surprised that she wanted to situate this project in an English Department rather than in Art History. I thought it was a great project, but I thought there would be difficulties getting it through an English Board of Studies. I was also worried by her answer to the question: why me and why within an English Department? She told me that she didn’t want to all the rigorous scholarly work that such a topic within an Art History framework would require.

I want to use this anecdote to flag up some of the problems involved in crossing disciplinary lines. In particular, I want to use it to flag up the issue of rigour. None of the poets that I know would regard the ‘creative’ as an alternative to rigour and scholarship – though they would probably agree that the creative or the creative critical involved new forms of rigour (where that rigour would also involve the creation of new forms appropriate to the issues being explored).


This brings me to –


Poetic Interlude 1: Allen Fisher

In 2010, Allen Fisher published Proposals 1-35.[xxv] The volume carried the sub-title poem-image-commentary, and each two-page spread consisted of a ‘proposal’ on the left-hand side and a visual image with a shorter piece of text beneath it on the right-hand page. To be more precise:

Each ‘Proposal’ is a single opening and consists of four elements: a poem on the left-hand page (which might, in fact, be the ‘Proposal’, since it carries the title); two visual images side by side (which might represent the opening of a sketch-book – that is, a smaller, represented opening within the actual opening) on the facing page; and a short passage of prose underneath the visual images, which is situated as if it were a gloss on the images, but isn’t.[xxvi]

Each opening places something before the reader, but what is placed before the reader is not a statement. Instead, Proposalsforegrounds the discontinuity of the component parts: not only is there a non-coherence of poetic text, prose text and visual image, but, as we have seen, the visual image is itself composed of two parts, whose relation to each other varies, and the prose text is sometimes a statement and, at other times, some form of collaged prose or series of discontinuous sentences.

Furthermore, since many of the right-hand images involve fire and industrial processes, there is the sense of a vertical (but incomplete) linkage pulling against the horizontal display of the opening. In short, the volume foregrounds discontinuity. It suggests relations but simultaneously disrupts expected connections.


In a conference on Fisher’s work at the University of Northumberland, as a response to Fisher’s Proposals, I gave a paper called ‘A Spatial Diptych’ – though the paper actually had three sections and I remember it as a triptych. In the final section, I quoted from Michel de Certeau.[xxvii]

I concluded with de Certeau’s account of what he calls debordement (overflowing), since it had an obvious relevance to Fisher’s larger poetic project: ‘the work of overflowing operates by the insinuation of the ordinary into established scientific fields’ with the result that ‘it can reorganise the place from which discourse is produced’ (5). Fisher’s earlier work Brixton Fractals was an obvious example of this.[xxviii]

I began, however, with de Certeau’s expressed desire to work out ‘a science of the relationship that links everyday pursuits to particular circumstances’ (ix). De Certeau goes on: ‘only in the local network of labor and recreation can one grasp how, within a grid of socio-economic constraints, these pursuits unfailingly establish relational tactics (a struggle for life), artistic creations (an aesthetic), and autonomous initiatives (an ethic)’ (ix).

In opposition to ‘the form of rationality currently dominant in Western culture’ (xi), the ‘jungle of functionalist rationality’ (xviii), de Certeau asserts the subject as the locus of ‘an incoherent (and often contradictory) plurality’ of relational determinants (xi). In opposition to the ‘grids’ of discipline, he discusses ‘arts of making’ (xv) which involve practices relating to urban spaces, and an art of combination, appropriation and bricolage. This was the framework within which I sought to approach Fisher’s Proposals.


Poetic Interlude 2: Jena Osman / Redell Olsen

It occurred to me during 2018, while teaching the third-year Poetic Practice option at Royal Holloway, that Jena Osman’s Public Figures provided a useful model for practice-based research. Public Figures is both a site-specific piece and a conceptual piece. Public Figures exists in two forms: as a book from Wesleyan University Press and as a digital film-text on How2: This is available at: ( I want to speak about the film-text.

The film-text begins by stating a research question: what is it that public statues in Philadelphia are looking at? After two attempts to answer this question, presenting the city from the point of view of two statues, it became clear, to Osman, that the answers were not very interesting. What impressed me about the project was the way that Osman then changed the research question and began a different kind of interrogation of these statues: who were they, who erected the statue, when was the statue erected and so on.

This part of the piece begins from the contrast between the outward gaze of the statue and the inattention of passers-by. Osman’s attention to ‘the landscape we don’t notice’ picks up on the strange invisibility of these ubiquitous figures of armed men in the daily life of the city. All space is semantic space, and Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, is revealed as a war-garden. Here the poet’s active attention and curiosity-driven research contrasts with the neutralised responses of the citizens.

Osman’s textual interruptions and investigations are designed to make us see ‘the frame that blinds’ us. In one section, for example, Osman explores the Civil War statue of Johnny Ring at Temple University. The inscribed Johnny Ring story is a story of a servant’s devotion to his master, and the master’s gratitude as embodied in the statue, which is also a mock-humble way of celebrating the master. The statue depicts Johnny with sword and bible. Osman reveals how the story of self-sacrifice is a complete fabrication: Johnny died of measles, while Conway, the master, faced a charge of cowardice. Significantly, the statue was erected during the Vietnam War.


Having given this example of intermedial creative practice, I want to conclude with three pieces by Redell Olsen as involving different versions of creative critical practice. The first of these is Olson’s The Minimaus Poems. This writing through of Olson’s Maximus poems, taking Olson’s text as the basis for her own version, springs from being Olsen with an e not an o, being from Gloucester, England, not Gloucester, Mass,; being five foot something rather than six foot eight; and, most of all, being female. The Minimaus Poems is a poetic sequence which embodies a radical critical interrogation of various aspects of the older Olson’s practice and position-taking through a systematic writing through (and back) to Olson.[xxix]


The second of these pieces is ‘Not, A Conceptual Art Poetics’, which was published in the anthology I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women (Les Figues, 2012). As the title, with its very careful comma suggests, this both is and is not a poetics. It is formally a negative poetics, consisting of a series of statements, each introduced by the word ‘Not’: ‘Not the poem as idea as idea but ideas in words as words. Not that the poem does not think that words are not made of materials.’ As this opening suggests, the ‘not’ formula is fairly flexible semantically and syntactically: here an assertion is followed by a concession, while the number of ‘nots’ (a double negative after that second concessive ‘not that’) keeps us on our toes.

As the title also suggests, Olsen is responding to Sol Lewitt’s 1969 ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’, which operated through a similar staccato, paratactic method of arguing. Olsen’s text works through the inter-relations between poetry, words, work, ideas, materiality. At certain points, Olson’s text also explicitly rejects Lewitt’s statements: ‘Not that all the planning and decisions need be made beforehand’, for example, or ‘Not that the execution of the poem is a perfunctory affair that does not care if it is one’ explicitly reject Lewitt.

Kenneth Goldsmith famously recycled Sol Lewitt’s ‘Paragraphs’ to launch ‘conceptual writing’. [xxx] Olsen’s return to Lewitt is also a position-taking in relation to conceptual writing, refusing, in particular, the idea of a pre-set procedure operating like a machine (her own practice is intuitive rather than strictly procedural) and the idea that ‘the execution of the poem’ doesn’t matter.


In 2014, Les Figues published Olsen’s Film Poems.[xxxi] As Drew Milne suggests in his Introduction, this title, for a book which brings together five poetic sequences, should also be seen as an invitation to read the sequences as constituting ‘a conceptual manifesto, a call to re-orient image-text relations in contemporary poetics’ (vii). The five works represent a practice of poetic research that is deeply involved in intermediality, where the poetic sequences derive from (and accompany in performance) filmic elements: found films of ‘London Landmarks’, the making of Toile de Jouy fabric, a silent film on the Nottingham lace industry, or Olsen’s own film-making.[xxxii]

Through these works, Olsen explores the relation between silent visual image (moving or static) and the verbal medium of poetry. ‘Words are the film between what was said and seen and also the means of seeing that is something burning in the projector called language’.[xxxiii] In each case, the engagement with montage and material relations, which finds expression in both these published texts and the films made or remade by Olsen that accompany them in performance, is situated in relation to making, manufacture and labour – and women’s roles in these processes.

 ‘To Quill at Film’, declared as a work of ‘aesthetics’, was published by Les Figues alongside Film Poems.[xxxiv] This essay takes the form of a masque and antimasque but with a preface and footnotes, referencing both the performed and the textual. The footnotes provide short accounts of the five sequences, describing sources and processes. The masque and antimasque provide a multi-voiced manifesto for ‘film-poems’ as a practice. These two works, presented in the apparently different forms of poetry sequences and aesthetic essay, are instances of the creative critical that successfully blur the boundaries between critical and creative writing.


In a more recent essay, ‘Writing Scripto-Visual Costumes and Columns of Air’, Olsen returns to Mary Kelly’s useful term and addresses ‘the practice of the scripto-visual as one that refuses the boundaries of existing disciplines’, a writing ‘in revolt at conventional forms’, a writing that, accordingly, ‘must be negotiated by both “reading” and “seeing” practices’.[xxxv] The reader / viewer ‘is asked to respond both to the work’s physical and material characteristics as well as to its semantic properties’ (73). As I have tried to suggest in relation to Film Poems and ‘To Quill at Film’, Olsen proposes (and enacts) ‘a poetics of flickers that crosses through the categories and hierarchies imposed by others or blurs the distinction between any number of these categories’ (65).


The Literary Influence of Academies

For reasons I understand, in their Introduction to Creative Criticism, Stephen Benson and Clare Connors do an efficient hatchet job on the critical essay.[xxxvi] However, as I have tried to intimate, my own practice and preference is a mixed economy. I think the problem they diagnose is not so much the critical essay, but the contemporary institutional framework.

One of the pressures that has come through from the experience of school teaching in the last decade or so is a student expectation that teaching is preparation for the examination. This, in turn, derives from the culture of school league tables and the Government’s instrumental attitude towards education: you take a loan to go to university; you study to gain qualifications; you gain qualifications in order to have a better-paid job; you get a better-paid job to pay off your student loan.

It is, also, tied in with university fees: if students are paying for their education, this changes their relationship to teachers. With this cultural change, the focus effectively shifts to grading teachers rather than grading students: are the students getting value for money?

On the one hand, and I am conscious that this is an old man talking, the idea of education as personal development seems to have been lost, and the idea of curiosity and learning for their own sake devalued. (Where I find both of these is in the community of innovative poets – whether inside or outside the academy.) On the other hand, and this is thinking of the future, this narrow instrumental attitude is failing to consider the impact on work, working lives, leisure of Artificial Intelligence. In this context, what is needed is precisely the slow text, the resistant text, the rediscovery of the sensuous pleasures of reading, and this is where creative writing, critical writing and creative-critical writing can work together. 


[i] William Empson, The Structure of Complex Words, 218.

[iii] Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘A Humble Remonstrance’, Memories and Portraits (London: William Heinemann, 1924), Tusitala Edition, 132-43; Henry James, ‘The Art of Fiction’ (1884) in Leon Edel (ed), Henry James: Partial Portraits (Michigan: Ann Arbor Paperbacks, 1970), 375-408.

[iv] Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘A Gossip on Romance’, Memories and Portraits, 119-31.

[v] ‘A Humble Remonstrance’, 137.

[vi] Stevenson, of course, does not take such a crude view of the reading process. In ‘A Gossip on Romance’, he emphasised ‘some quality of the brute incident’ (120) as the key to childhood reading, and for adults too, he argued, ‘it is not character but incident that woos us out of our reserve’ (128)

[vii] Henry James, ‘Preface to “The Awkward Age”, The Art of the Novel (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1934), 109.

[viii] I am a member of the Foundational Steering Group for the Practice Research Advisory Group (PRAG-UK) and currently edit the PRAG-UK blog.

[ix] Robert Hampson, Seaport (London: Pushtika Press, 1995; Exeter: Shearsman, 2008).

[x] Roy Fisher, City (Worcester: Migrant Press, 1961) and Allen Fisher, Place  I-XXXVII (Carborro: Truck Press, 1976). This was Book I of the project; the complete Place was published as a single volume by Reality Street in 2005.

[xi]Charles Olson, Call Me Ishmael (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947; London: Jonathan Cape, 1967). All references are to the Cape edition.

[xii] See Victor Bérard, Les Phéniciens et l’Odyssée (Paris: 1902-3; Paris: Colin, 1927); Michael Seidel, Epic Geography: James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976); Robert Hampson, ‘Local Mappings: Cosmic Extensions’, English XXVI. 125 (Summer, 1977), 170-75.

[xiii] For Alembic, see David Miller and Richard Price, British Poetry Magazines 1914-2000 (London: The British Library, 2006), 127; Wolfgang Görtschacher, Little Magazine Profiles (Salzburg: University of Salzburg, 1993), 163-5; Ken Edwards, ‘From Alembic to Reality Street Editions’ in Wolfgang Görtschacher (ed.), Contemporary Views on the Little Magazine Scene (Salzburg: Poetry Salzburg, 2000), 233-64; and Sophie Seita, ‘the transatlantic axis of Alembic: an interview with Ken Edwards and Robert Hampson’, Jacket 2 (January 2018). 

[xiv] Walter Benjamin, One-Way Street (London: New Left Books, 1979).

[xv] Letter of 8.2.1928 quoted in One-Way Street, 35. Asja Lacis was a Latvian communist revolutionary and theatre director, assistant to Brecht and Piscator. She and Benjamin met in Capri in the summer of 1924.

[xvi] Lee Harwood, Collected Poems (Exeter: Shearsman, 2004), 28-9, 144.

[xvii] See, for example, Robert Sheppard, ‘The Necessity of Poetics’, in the e-journal pores <>.

[xviii] Charles Olson, ‘Projective Verse’ in Robert Creeley (ed.), Charles Olson, Selected Writings (New York: New Directions, 1966), 15-26

[xix] See Robert Hampson, ‘“When the attentions change”: Charles Olson and Frances Boldereff’, in David Herd (ed.) Contemporary Olson(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), 149-62.

[xx] See Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, edited by Robert Hampson (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1995).

[xxi] Robert Hampson, Joseph Conrad: Betrayal and Identity (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992).

[xxii] Robert Hampson, Cross-cultural Encounters in Joseph Conrad’s Malay Fiction (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000).

[xxiii]Robert Hampson, Conrad’s Secrets (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

[xxiv]Charlotte Smith, ‘Written in the church yard at Middleton in Sussex’. The line reads: ‘ith shells and sea-weed mingled, on the shore’.

[xxv] Allen Fisher, Proposals 1-35 (Hereford: Spanner, 2010).

[xxvi] Proposals might be seen as in the tradition of emblem books.

[xxvii] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (University of California Press, 1988).

[xxviii] Allen Fisher, Brixton Fractals (London: Aloes Books, 1985).

[xxix] Redell Olsen, Secure Portable Space (Hastings: Reality Street, 2004).

[xxx] Kenneth Goldsmith, ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Writing’.

[xxxi] Redell Olsen, Film Poems (Los Angeles: Les Figues, 2014).

[xxxii] In fact, this is part of a longer engagement with the scripto-visual that dates at least as far back as her doctoral research.

[xxxiii] Redell Olsen, ‘To Quill at Film’, Trenchart: Logistics (Los Angeles: Les Figues, 2013), 1-18, 18.

[xxxiv] Redell Olsen, ‘To Quill at Film’, Trenchart: Logistics (Los Angeles: Les Figues, 2013), 1-18.

[xxxv] Redell Olsen, ‘Writing Scripto-Visual Costumes and Columns of Air’, Artistic Research and Literature (February, 2019), 63-79; 68, 71, 73..

[xxxvi] Stephen Benson and Clare Connors (eds), Creative Criticism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013).