Category Archives: Critical Writing

Two creative-critical essays

Both of these are in The Restless Compendium (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) and can be freely downloaded.

So Even the Tree has its Yolk


This creative-critical work draws on the archives of the Pioneer Health Centre, also known as the Peckham Experiment, held at the Wellcome Library. The Centre was established between the wars both to provide the conditions for, and to investigate, health rather than illness. The ways in which personal and group forms of vitality were conceptualized, valorized and put to work allowed poet and writer James Wilkes to think through the link between individual and societal relationships to leisure, work and health. However, the archive also holds many other strands of thinking – esoteric, biological, quasi-anarchist – and the choice of fiction as a form of writing provides a way of holding these dispersive, messy ingredients together – a way of working restlessly with restless materials.

Published open access (free download): click here

The Poetics of Descriptive Experience Sampling


James Wilkes and Holly Pester, both poets, write here about their engagement with the descriptive experience sampling (DES) method, which stemmed from an interdisciplinary encounter with the psychologist Russell Hurlburt, and their experience of being trained as subjects in this technique. This chapter considers how DES can be used in unexpected ways to think through vexed questions in poetics about the relationship between experience and language, and the material ways in which experience might be captured. James and Holly consider the deployment of DES in the context of a poetry reading, which emerges as a space of multiple, distributed and distractable attention.

Published open access (free download): click here.

The Restless Compendium


This interdisciplinary book contains 22 essays and interventions on rest and restlessness, silence and noise, relaxation and work. It draws together approaches from artists, literary scholars, psychologists, activists, historians, geographers and sociologists who challenge assumptions about how rest operates across mind, bodies, and practices. Rest’s presence or absence affects everyone. Nevertheless, defining rest is problematic: both its meaning and what it feels like are affected by many socio-political, economic and cultural factors. The authors open up unexplored corners and experimental pathways into this complex topic, with contributions ranging from investigations of daydreaming and mindwandering, through histories of therapeutic relaxation and laziness, and creative-critical pieces on lullabies and the Sabbath, to experimental methods to measure aircraft noise and track somatic vigilance in urban space. The essays are grouped by scale of enquiry, into mind, body and practice, allowing readers to draw new connections across apparently distinct phenomena.

Published open access (free to download): click here.

Poetry and Neuroscience: An Interdisciplinary Conversation

An article co-authored by me and neuroscientist Sophie Scott.


Dialogues and collaborations between scientists and non-scientists are now widely understood as important elements of scientific research and public engagement with science. In recognition of this, the authors, a neuroscientist and a poet, use a dialogical approach to extend questions and ideas first shared during a lab-based poetry residency. They recorded a conversation and then expanded it into an essayistic form, allowing divergent disciplinary understandings and uses of experiment, noise, voice and emotion to be articulated, shared and questioned.

This is published open access and can be freely downloaded: click here for pdf

Critical Writing

A Fractured Landscape of Modernity: Culture and Conflict in the Isle of Purbeck. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

“The recent rise of ‘new nature writing’ has renewed the question of how a landscape can be written. This book intervenes in this debate by proposing innovative methodologies for writing place that recognize and make use of the contradictions, fractures and coincidences found in a modern landscape. In doing so, it develops original readings of modernist artists and writers who were associated with the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, including Vanessa Bell, Paul Nash, Eric Benfield and Mary Butts. Their work is set alongside embodied practices of leisure and labour such as sea bathing, beachcombing, quarrying, tourism and scientific fieldwork, as well as the material and geological features of the environment with which such activities are allied. By showing the Isle of Purbeck to be a site where versions of modernity were actively generated and contested, the book contributes to a reassessment of the significance of rural locations for English modernism.”

“‘Limestone is the humanistic rock’: Geological Thought in the Work of Adrian Stokes and Peter Riley”, in Where Horizons Meet: The Poetry of Peter Riley, ed. Amy Cutler & Alex Latter (Canterbury: Gylphi, forthcoming 2014)

“‘O gods…’ Hidden Homeric Deities in Godard’s Le Mepris, Godard’s Contempt. Essays from the London Consortium, Critical Quarterly Special Issue, ed. Colin MacCabe and Laura Mulvey. Volume 53, Issue Supplement S1, pages 42–51, July 2011.

“Radio And…” in Stress Fractures: Essays on Poetry, ed. Tom Chivers (London: Penned in the Margins, 2010).

The Poem as Space of Collection [PDF] A talk on Peter Riley’s Excavations, delivered at the Collecting and Gathering Conference, Columbia University, New York, in June 2009.

There’s a fair amount of older material on the Studio International website, including my review of Tate Modern’s 2008 Cy Twombly retrospective.