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This item is taken from PN Review 106, Volume 22 Number 2, November - December 1995.

Letters from Patrick McGuinness, John Crossley, Mary Wylie
Beyond the Margins

Thank you for printing Douglas Oliver's article 'The Subject of Poetry' in PNR 105. Though PNR has been taking (necessary) potshots at ''Theory', 'Post-Modernism' and a host of other ismic buzzwords lately, and although these polemics have ranged from the competent and engaged to the wilfully misinformative, I cannot help but think that Douglas Oliver's contribution to the issue -the supra-critical issue - of what literary endeavour can mean (and no apologies for using that word) as it shuttles between producer and consumer, is one of the sanest and most Vigilantly humane around. It is surely a coinddence that his piece should appear in the midst of this spate of polemics, but it has the effect of showing up the paucity of debate in both Theory and its antagonists. Both camps clearly think that they are engaged in a kind of titanic struggle for integrity. Articles like Oliver's show beyond doubt that they are simply marginal skirmishes between basically complicit and mutually-supportive straw targets.


The Odour of Decay

What is happening in the offices (are there offices - chambers perhaps?) of PN Review?

In your previous issue you introduce what must be very rare - the work of a writer which is probably new to your readers and is authentic (in the sense of being immediately linked with the poet's experiences), accessible, and must arouse in the soul of the reader who possesses that attribute the affirmative response 'YES, that's how it is.' Of course there is a canon - and Mark Doty's poetry has a place in it.

But the issue of PN Review which has just appeared is very different: here is the reek of deconstruction. I know nothing of the work of the New Zealand writer Allen Curnow beyond what I read in Chris Miller's article, but this could be a misrepresentation. But the Miller/Curnow enterprise starts by turning Descartes on his head. This is done ostensibly in a playful mood, but in fact with unkind intent. For Descartes his thinking -'Cogito…' - was not the cause of his being but was essentially the evidence of it; but in Miller's interpretation of Curnow Descartes is subverted to the extend of being absorbed into the former's utterly contrary views.

To what extent it is possible to assess Curnow correctly from Miller's article I cannot say since his prose is so opaque as to be impossible in some places to follow. Of the piece 'A Window Frame' he writes: 'the breach of narrative conventions foregrounds and undermines the ambition of the text to substitute itself for fate.' A complex sentence? Read it again, and it turns out to be a jumble of unsorted ideas. What is clear however is Miller's intent to present Curnow as an agent of deconstruction. 'The collapse of the signifier is a part of Curnow's metaphysics', we are told, and collapse - the collapsing structure bringing down any other associated with it - rather than forthright destruction is the mode of demolition employed. Thus some lines of Curnow's apparently referring to the moon tum out to be a reference to his own bladder. But 'Curnow has been taking a (or the) piss', we read. Demolition leads to decay, and here is the authentic odour of decay clearly relished by Miller. Great poetry! Thank you Mr Miller for your introduction to Allen Curnow (who may not be as you present him).

Deconstruction is rife among literary journals; is PN Review also tottering?


True Poetry

Obviously the word 'poetry' is today stretched to absurd lengths to cover prevailing trends.

May I suggest (in all seriousness) that in fairness to true poetry - ie that which raises the hair from the scalp with its beauty, strangeness, universality, timelessness and spacelessness - you hold a competition and award a small prize for the non-poetry/non-prose to which you devote so much space in your columns?

Perhaps, even, a small seminar/ 'workshop' might be arranged to discuss this important matter? (Now, there's a thought!)


CORRECTION: An error occurs on the cover of PN Review 105. It is described as 'Volume 21 Number 7'. In fact it is 'Volume 22 Number l' because each 'Volume' includes six issues or a single year. We apologise, especially to librarians, for this error.

This item is taken from PN Review 106, Volume 22 Number 2, November - December 1995.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
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