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Emergency and Emergence

‘What is care?’ asks María Puig de la Bellacasa: ‘Is it an affection? A moral obligation? Work? A burden? A joy? Something we can learn or practice? Something we just do?’[1] Recent social, political and environmental crises have brought new attention to these questions, and to the ways that we perceive and experience forms of care. As we rethink what it means to take care of ourselves, each other, and the planet, the double-edged meaning of the term ‘care’ can be felt with more urgency than ever: care encapsulates our attention and concern at the same time as it defines our troubles, pains and sorrows. More than this, however, as Lisa Baraister and Laura Salisbury point out, we need to be mindful of the ‘ever-present possibility of violence and failures of care within acts of care’.[2] In so many ways, as the destruction of the National Health Service, the invasion of Ukraine, and extreme weather events around the globe have all attested in the last year, our failures of care always haunt our possible futures.

Thinking about what it means to give or take care, as well as the violence of our failures to do so, or to do so in ways that matter, is shaped by a turn to ‘care’ as a focus and form of inquiry across the disciplines. This also means reassessing ways of practicing care as a species amongst other species. Indeed, in Matters of Care, Puig de la Bellacasa advocates approaches to care that move beyond the human:

Thinking about and with care is compelling […] because it offers possibilities for thinking commitment and obligation as nonnormative forms of ethical engagement that could be more attuned to the decentering of human agency and privilege in contemporary thinking of technoscience and naturecultures.[3]

Exploring a theory and praxis of care within multispecies entanglements, Puig de la Bellacasa develops a ‘speculative ethics’ for a future that is already here and now.

Reading and discussing the work of Puig de la Bellacasa during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic – a period during which many of us were more conscious than ever that the future is always already here and now – the Critical Poetics Research Group sought out ways of working together during lockdown that allowed us to take care with and through our writing. In so doing, we faced questions regarding the nature of our work: to what degree is writing with care an ethical as well as an aesthetic imperative? What might this work achieve in the face of global trauma, social inequality and environmental devastation? And how might the particular pressures of the contemporary moment destabilise received forms and genres and invite alternative ways of thinking and writing? To begin to answer these questions, we set about creating a space in which writers, researchers and artists from a range of languages, cultures and backgrounds might come together to think through what it means to care.

In 2021, the Critical Poetics Summer School, co-organised by Dr Sarah Jackson and Dr Jack Thacker, was delivered care of a group of internationally recognised artists, writers and thinkers whose work addresses current and pressing issues of care and caring.[4] This special issue presents a curated selection of the work produced by Summer School participants and contributors. The works featured here respond to the many conversations that took place during the ten-day programme: How has the global pandemic changed care? What does care now mean in light of the social injustices and inequalities foregrounded by Black Lives Matter? What does it mean to be charged with the care of animal, vegetal and mineral life-forms during the sixth mass extinction? What forms of care are present in the more-than-human world? And how has care both as a concept and an experience changed for writers, artists, critics and readers? Over the course of the programme we discussed these issues together, exploring the degree to which writing, art, criticism, or a combination of these, might help us attend to manifold, interconnected and collective care responsibilities.

Coordinated in partnership with Nottingham Contemporary, Curated & Created at Nottingham Trent University, and Metronome, the Critical Poetics Summer School took place online from 25 June to 3 July 2021 and featured a wide range of virtual activities – from one-to-one tutorials, to workshops and public events – tailored for interdisciplinary scholars, writers, artists and students. Selected from over one hundred applicants, twenty participants benefitted from access to internationally renowned writers, practitioners, activists and thinkers including Raymond Antrobus, Marion Coutts, Eva Haifa Giraud, Seán Hewitt, Bhanu Kapil, Steve Mentz, Astrida Neimanis, Maggie Nelson, Nat Raha, Michael Rosen, Craig Santos Perez, Laura Salisbury and Mama D Ujuaje. In addition, workshop members contributed to collaborative poetry as social action projects led by the Summer School Resident Writer, Maya Chowdhry.

The Summer School was part of a larger programme of activities run by Critical Poetics, a research group based at Nottingham Trent University whose aim it is to explore the role of creative-critical writing and hybrid methodologies in promoting cross-cultural conversation and driving social change. Working with regional, national and international partners, and bringing together perspectives from a wide range of fields in order to inspire new forms of engagement with pressing social, political, cultural and environmental concerns, the research group provides a home for scholars and artists who work across disciplines to explore creative and critical theory and practice. The Summer School enabled us to considerably develop this work by fostering a vibrant intellectual and artistic community functioning beyond the constraints of traditional disciplinary structures. The material that follows offers a glimpse into the conversations that took place in the summer of 2021 as we explored what writing with care might mean, what forms it might take, and what it might do.