The Poet-Critic: On Juliana Leslie's National Poetry Series Win
The winners of the National Poetry Series 2011 Open Competition were announced in September, as we mentioned. Today, the UC Humanities Forum has posted an in-depth article on the history of the awards and -- more specifically -- Juliana Leslie, who is a PhD candidate in the Literature department at UCSC:
UCSC’s Literature department has long been a space where poets have resided, with William Everson on faculty in 1971, followed by Nate Mackey, Peter Gizzi, and Gary Young at present. Its students, Leslie included, formed the Poetry and Politics research cluster, which seeks to preserve and promote the study of poetry and other experimental writing within the university. Leslie credits the cluster’s activities for its support of her project, specifically the way its meetings, readings and conferences provided her with a sense of community with other writers. The group brings together students who produce their own creative work and who are also engaged in critical work in their theses and dissertations. The cluster, she says, helped her to “keep poetry central.”
Keeping poetry central amidst a teaching schedule, qualifiying exams and then a dissertation project is no mean feat. Green is for Word is not Leslie’s first book-length publication, either. In 2010 Lettermachine published Leslie’s 83-page More Radiant Signal, a collection of poems she worked on from 2001-2007. The poems in Green were completed in 2008-2011, the years she began her study of the long poem. For Leslie, the divide between a critical study of a poem and the way it can influence her creative work is blurry. She admits that there are some works she is interested in as a scholar that she doesn’t necessarily want to reproduce as a poet. When I ask her about the differences between studying a poem critically and studying a poem in her own process she tells me, “the scholarly work can produce an influence. The head-space (of study) can be the same, but the output is different.” Leslie’s work at UCSC is challenging the distinctions she traces back to Romanticism between critical and the creative thought and practice around language.
The Poetry and Politics research cluster, which Leslie now co-organizes along with Andrea Quaid also at UCSC, held a two-day conference last year exploring this “divide” and its implications for poets in the university. Leslie’s work as an academic and a poet can be thought as inhibiting the space of the poet-critic—perhaps traversing the space between the critical thinker and the creative maker. These are distinctions that she sees inhibiting thought across disciplines and genres, boundaries she sees as the “institutionalization of spaces—where dividing lines break things up: the nation, the museum, the university.”