ESSAY Kevin Mills

NWR Issue 103

Fetch the Critic

Without the critical faculty, there is no artistic creation at all
Oscar Wilde, ‘The Critic as Artist’

Christine Evans’ multi-faceted exploration of poetry, composition and the creative impulse, Burning the Candle (Gomer 2006), includes a poem called ‘The Fetch’. Here thought becomes a sheepdog ‘fetching’ ideas and metaphors as it runs: each steers their charges towards the open ‘gate to the pen’. The clever pun on ‘pen’ makes of the image a Donne-like conceit as thought manifestly delivers this poem to a page that serves as a fold for its gathered words.

Lodged between the long poem that gives the book its title and fourteen ‘spin-off’ poems, the ‘Log of Writing “Burning the Candle”’ finds Evans revealing that ‘“The Fetch” came into [her] head whole’; while the poem characterises itself as the product of a certain kind of working practice, a shepherding of language and image, the ‘Log’ makes of it an almost unlooked-for arrival. In a work fascinated by Faraday and electricity, the poet seems at times more conductor than maker:

as if something wants to come through me, to be given form; the work comes out of my brain and imagination, draws its imagery from my experience and knowledge and uses my vocabulary and my fingers but seems to have something like a life of its own.... I have to surrender to this writing....

The sense of compromised volition with which this confession dallies is contrasted in and questioned by passages that outline research (its significance reinforced by the inclusion of a bibliography), and others that speak of ‘struggling’ to write. Evans offers, too, a methodological guide that advocates ‘working the material’, ‘making decisions’ and ‘firming up the structure’. Articulating one (paradoxical) way of thinking about creativity in relation to critical activity, poetic expression is tacitly divorced from the textual encounters and critical engagements that feed it; its characteristic mode is inward and contemplative. Yet, at the same time, laborious attention to what might be called raw materials, whether the products of observation or of study, is woven inextricably into the account of writing...

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previous essay: Molly Drake: How Wild The Wind Blows
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