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This report is taken from PN Review 106, Volume 22 Number 2, November - December 1995.

The Poem and the World Richard Kell

Certain problems of critical theory in relation to imaginative writing have turned up again, accidentally, in PN Review 104.I say accidentally because, though all the contributors involved are presumably aware of those problems, only the fourth (Nicolas Tredell) draws attention to them - by mentioning the central one. The following extracts are from (1) Michael Schmidt's editorial, (2) a letter by Anne Stevenson, (3) 'A Talk with Mark Doty', (4) 'Death of a Critic' by Nicolas Tredell, and (5) 'The Beginnings of Art', a review by T J.G. Harris.

(1) In the 1930s critical categories were politicised, with an inevitable dissipation of seriousness… A volatile but continuous critical culture - insisting on engagement with poems - persisted through the 1960s and into the 1970s… [The recent failure of that critical culture has to do partly with] the fragmentation of critical discourse, following on the heels of theoretical or political divisions which inevitably fragment the literature they arise from, foregrounding gender, gender preference, ethnidty, class, political complexion, requiring privileged status for the work they seek to legitimise at the expense of works of different provenance … Is there a critic who can deal with [many different kinds of poetry, including the modem and the anti-modem], not in terms of movements or polemical positioning, but first and foremost in terms of the words combining on the page, the sounds and tones those words make, the senses they give, and how they extend or revive elements in the language we ...

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