CRITICISM AS ART: AN INTERVIEW WITH SEAM EDITIONS

by Eli Lambe

There is a new independent publishing house in Norwich. Seam Editions has already published some amazing pieces (seriously I am ashamed of everything I’ve ever written in comparison).  Focusing on the emerging field of creative-critical writing, they provide a platform for interactive, experimental and formally disruptive writing. I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with four of the team to talk about the incredible progress they have made since their launch late last year. I met Sara Helen Binney, Sarah A. Jones, Simon Pook and Rob Ward at the Playhouse.

Inspired by organising the Hybrid Writing Conference at UEA in December 2016, the team came together through their interests in creative-critical writing to take the idea further, a process that Simon described as “lots of learning, very quickly” under the impetus of an enterprise grant from UEA and Santander, which pushed the project forward much faster than anticipated. Simon described the challenge of “having that business sense alongside the arts, and finding a way to mesh the two together.” By necessity the model is flexible, the thing they are looking for is constantly changing with each new round of submissions. In Rob’s words: “We redefine what creative-critical is every time we publish something.”

Seam’s digital platform is an example in itself of how “to publish creative-critically,” each page asks “What is the necessary way of presenting itself so it is the most itself it can be?” They are working with each text to “[do] something with the fact that it is allowed to be on a screen.” Rob’s digital skills make it work seamlessly.

They all came to creative critical through different academic avenues –  as readers, creative writers, and critical writers interested in theory. A common thread for all of them was a feeling of great gratitude to Stephen Benson and Clare Connors, both of whom teach at UEA and have written a collaborative book on the creative-critical. There was also a sense that “there is something in the water” about creative-critical now, something essential which is driving a lot of writers on both sides of the hyphen to look at ways of writing and presenting theory as/through/in art.

I asked (mostly because I still don’t really understand what creative-critical is and really wanted some pointers as my intense feelings of inadequacy intensified) what they look for in submissions. The answers were as varied and complicated as every damn thing else to do with this subject, but they patiently and enthusiastically gave their (current) takes on it. They look for “Writing which performs its argument”; writing where the writers “do something formal which is to do with [their] argument.” As an example, Sara Helen discussed an upcoming piece by Leah Foster, who writes about feminism and dialogue using the form of an e-mail exchange. They look for a “marriage of what you’re saying and how you’re saying it” and advise writers to not “just write in the way that you think people expect, write in a way that is your own. “ Creative-critical is “thinking of criticism as art” – the choice of form is critical to the argument, critical to the criticism, and it is critical that this choice is conscious. Sara Helen asks of each piece: “What’s your thing?” “What is drawing you towards it and what is it you feel pushed out of?” as a vital motivation to writing creative-critically.

How can you criticise the capitalist superstructure through the language of the owners of that capitalist superstructure?

When asked what radical possibilities exist within creative-criticism, the answers were nuanced and left the box open. Rob explained that “It is possible to construct a version of creative criticism that is definitely politically radical” although this is not, by any means, the only construction of it.  “Creative criticism comes in through the fact that it is difficult to criticise modern liberal politics through the language of modern liberal politics. How can you criticise the capitalist superstructure through the language of the owners of that capitalist superstructure?” So, within the disruptive capacity of creative-critical writing there is a space for politically radical questioning. “We’re really excited by the potential of that, but there are other ways for people to do creative critical work.”

Creative-critical writing, to Sara Helen, opens up writing: “If you’re someone who is used to particular forms, you can find a space for something more radical in creative-criticism, in that you are writing something which is formally responsive… If you’re finding yourself not being able to say what you want to say, for whatever reason, or not being able to represent the kind of ideas you want to in any particular form and you try to, not re-create the wheel, but you try to do something creative-critical with it, that can be a radical act to do that.” Simon adds that, “Close reading was radical when it started, forms can always be radical and can always then no longer be radical. I guess I would hope that creative-critical always has a kind of evolution inherent in it, in a really productive really generative way.”

you can find a space for something more radical in creative-criticism

What struck me most about the conversation with these individuals was how constant the testing of ideas and concepts were. Each member of the team I spoke to was passionate, and that passion manifested in an enthusiastic doubt at the heart of each answer. They work together incredibly well, hashing out ideas and clarifying each point as a team, and each new submission and publication is exciting and wonderful. Keep an eye on them, let’s see how what develops.

Featured image via Pdbh / Creative Commons


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