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This item is taken from PN Review 101, Volume 21 Number 3, January - February 1995.

Letters from Christopher Reid, Michael Hulse, Jan Montefiore, John Lucas, Adam Roberts, Clive Wilmer, Michael Grant, Elizabeth Friedmann, Antony Rudolf, Marius Kociejowski, Peter Finch, W.S. Milne, T.J.G. Harris
From the Editor

Economical with his evidence, Michael Hulse, while pretending to sum up the Faber list (PNR 98), cites fewer than half of the poets I have taken on in my three years of editing here. I suppose it is possible that Lavinia Greenlaw, Don Paterson, Simon Armitage, Susan Wicks, Martin Turner, Adam Zagajewski, Geoffrey Lehmann, Hubert Witheford, Fergus Allen and Hugo Williams - the full complement of newcomers, to whom Charles Simic, August Kleinzahler, Maurice Riordan and Katherine Pierpoint will be added next year - all 'closely approximate' to my 'own style of poetry', but I never knew before that I was that kind of protean genius.

Well, I'm not, am I? And given Hulse's alarmingly shaky grasp of both past and present, I wonder why he should be listened to when he blunders into the future tense, with his opinion that 'the Faber list, under [my] management will probably never be open to the larger cultural, intellectual address of whatever latter day Eliots or Pounds may be waiting in the wings.' His notion of the form new talent will take is quaint, to say the least - or was that a big crowd of Eliots and Pounds he rounded up last year for his own anthology, The New Poetry? - but, whatever the genuine article looks like, it will be of interest to me. The names I have given above should be enough to show that the Faber list is not suffocating from the self-interest or narrowness of taste he imputes to my 'regime'.

I am sorry that Hubert Witheford's book was treated mainly as an excuse to get at my supposed policies. With its artistic and philosophical address, it deserves more serious attention.

Faber and Faber

Michael Hulse writes:
No indeed, I never knew either that Christopher Reid was so protean a genius, nor meant to suggest it. Charles Simic, one of the finest poets in the language, plainly falls outside the domestic strain I saw in Susan Wicks, Martin Turner, Hubert Witheford, and the excellent Geoffrey Lehmann: so do Adam Zagajewski and August Kleinzahler.

On the other hand, Mr Reid adds the names of other essentially domestic writers - Simon Armitage, Hugo Williams and Don Paterson over much of their distance - who confirm me in what was meant more as a critical tease than an all-factors-considered assessment. Faber have too much their own way and like to believe they invented poetry and have a birthright to a monopoly of kudos; so it is good if they are provoked now and then. As Mr Reid well knows, my fellow-editors and I printed Simon Armitage and Lavinia Greenlaw in The New Poetry, and Michael Hofmann too; and we were within a whisker of printing Don Paterson, but had to drop him in the final round of exclusions, for space reasons, and have of course regretted it. In other words, we were well aware of the qualities present on Faber's list; and I warmly wish Mr Reid the judgement to maintain that list's diversity, and to resist the blandishments of too much comfort. His decisions to publish Charles Simic and August Kleinzahler are to be welcomed and point in an extremely encouraging direction.

Women Poets of the 1930s

Harry Kemp's objection (PNR 97, 'Letters') to my essay 'Undeservedly Forgotten: women poets of the 1930s' (PNR 94) seems to be that instead of wasting space on women, I should have used the essay to discuss the work of Norman Cameron, James Reeves and Alan Hodge, because these poets are (a) just as neglected and (b) more deserving of attention than the poets whom I did discuss. Actually the work of Norman Cameron, whose poems appeared in New Verse and who is represented by eight poems in the Penguin Poetry of the 1930s, is familiar to all students of the 1930s, as to a lesser extent is that of James Reeves; Hodge is known as co-author, with Robert Graves, of The Long Week-End: England Between "the Wars. The poems of Reeves and Cameron are both discussed seriously in AJ. Tolley's encyclopaedic Poetry of the 1930s (1975), and Cameron has had fuller treatment in Adrian Caesar's revisionist book about 1930s poetry Dividing Lines (1991). This may not be a lot of acknowledgement compared with the massive volume of commentary on Auden, Spender and Co., but it is not the total neglect which has greeted all British women poets of the thirties, with the partial exception of Kathleen Raine (probably because she too was a New Verse poet). Raine is the only woman poet discussed by Tolley or Caesar, but even she didn't get into the Penguin anthology - and no other literary historians of the thirties have discussed any women poets at all. Mr Kemp clearly feels that the claims of Cameron, Reeves and Hodge to be considered as major poets are so urgent and overriding that they should crowd out the belated attention which I have paid to the poems of Stevie Smith, Mary Borden, EJ. Scovell, Naomi Mitchison, Naney Cunard, Ruth Pitter and Sylvia Townsend Warner. He is of course entitled to his opinion, but I see no reason to share it.

Mark Jacobs' complaint that I did not discuss the work of Laura Riding in detail raises more complex and interesting issues. I am sorry to have given Mr Jacobs the impression of slighting Laura Riding's poetry, which I admire. My reason for not giving more space to her work is partly that I wanted to emphasise relatively unfamiliar poems as opposed to well-known names (I didn't say much about Kathleen Raine's poetry either, for the same reason) and partly that, as I argued in the essay, Riding's poems seem to me to have less in common with English poetry of the 1920s and 1930s than with the work of American modernist poets like Gertrude Stein and H.D. Like her, these women experimented radically with poetic language to produce extraordinarily ambitious, formally surprising work which uses abstraction and repetition to put the nature of poetic language into question. I did not suggest, as Mr Jacobs appears to think I did, that either of these poets influenced Laura Riding directly, or she them; rather that each woman produced a specifically feminine - and American - 'take' on Modernist poetics, pushing language to her own kind of extreme. All of their work is more 'strange' than that of the better-known Modernist classics Eliot, Pound, Williams, and has taken much longer to be understood - indeed it's still in process of being recognized and interpreted, thanks partly to Carcanet Press, which has reprinted the poems of Riding, Loy and H.D., and partly to the efforts of (mainly feminist) scholars and critics.

The striking linguistic radicalism of poems like 'Laddery Street' is connected, I would guess, with the fact that Laura Riding came like Stein and H.D. (and like the English/American poet Mina Loy, a member of the Paris/New York avant-garde, whose father was a Hungarian Jew living in London) from an originally German-speaking family for whom the English language wasn't something to take for granted. The push by brilliant, highly-educated children of non-Anglophone immigrant families towards questioning and playing with the normalizing assumptions of American English, the national language, was and is a vital strand in North American poetry; you can see it today in works like Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera, Jimmy Santiago Baca's Immigrants in Our Own Land or Irene Klepfisz's Yiddish and English poems. In prose, Henry Roth's 1934 novel Call It Sleep and Alice Kaplan's recent memoir French Lessons belong to a similar tradition.

None of these writers, including Riding, was in any way ignorant of the niceties of English usage. On the contrary, the scope of American women poets' achievements between the wars was partly made possible by their access to high-powered universities. Laura Riding went to Cornell, H.D. to Bryn Mawr, Gertrude Stein to Johns Hopkins, Marianne Moore to Vassar: academic successes that surely have something to do with their outstanding qualities of ambition and intellectual self-confidence, unparalleled in the work of their female English contemporaries. Not many English women poets born before 1940 got to college, and you can see the difference in their work, which has been until quite recently much more accepting of traditional rules - subverting these perhaps by irony and pastiche, as Stevie Smith or Sylvia Townsend Warner did, but mostly avoiding experimentation. I cannot think of any English woman who produced radical Modernist poetry before Wendy Mulford and Denise Riley, unless you count Mina Loy as English. (Edith Sitwell might be regarded as an exception to this rule, but not a strong one; she seems according to her biographer Victoria Glendinning to have seen herself as a great Modernist poet, but her poems do not convince me that she was. Her best work, the poems written for Façade, is rhythmically playful, inventive and enjoyably free, and it certainly exerted a creative influence on Louis MacNeice and Stevie Smith; but none of her poetry has the energy, subtlety or strangeness of her Modernist American counterparts.)

On the other hand, to categorise writers solely according to their nationality at birth is liable to make one fall victim to the ideological bind classically stated by Wordsworth: 'In weakness we create distinctions and/Believe our petty boundaries are things/Which we perceive, and not what we have made.' But some distinctions are weaker than others. The boundaries of single nationality do, I agree, look fairly petty as a context for Riding and her peers between the wars. Laura Riding lived in Europe, published her poems in London between the wars, and identified herself with the English poetic tradition; Gertrude Stein lived in Paris, and her life and work are obviously bound up with Parisian avant-garde artists notably Picasso; H.D. also lived in Europe, and her poetry and prose meditate constantly on her own life in relation to contemporary European history (especially the wartime Tribute to Freud and Trilogy). nd how should one categorise Mina Loy, who was born in London but whose poetry seems to belong in an American context and who settled in New York? These women's work engages in complicated ways with English and European traditions as well as with American modernism, and it would take a book rather than a 4000 word article about English women's poetry in the 1930s to expound their poetry in its proper context.


Sic Aut Non

Two cheers for Raymond Tallis. He's unfair to Foucault, but for most part his onslaught against the absurdities and incompetence of much of what passes for contemporary critical theory, above all the deconstructionist tendency, is entirely just. He's also right to detect a marked shift in the characteristic tone of its protagonists: from earlier arrogance to present aporia. (If I may be allowed to use a much favoured term.) Two questions which he doesn't address occur to me: why did it all happen and why does it still go on?

To answer the first question we need to recall the extraordinary moment for which '1968' stands as a metaphor and symbol. Here, it may help to repeat an anecdote I heard from Graham Martin and which I hope he won't mind my passing on. Some time in the late 1970s he and Arnold Kettle were sitting together when Kettle, perhaps struck by a glum remark of Graham's, said to him, 'Graham, I'm an optimist because I was formed by the years of the Popular Front. You're a pessimist because you were formed by the years of the Cold War.' A pause. Then: 'And X' - naming a much younger man - 'was formed by 1968, when nothing happened.' (My italics.) Well, a great deal happened in that year, but Kettle must have meant that its disappointments and defects made many on the left begin to suspect that for the immediate future, at least, history wasn't after all going to go their way. It might even be about to turn its back on them. That being so, they would get their retaliation in first by turning their backs on history. I am not suggesting that this was a conscious, let alone voiced, decision; but it will certainly go far towards explaining what happened next. For we need also to recall that the late 1960s was a time of huge expectancy and that this coincided with, and was no doubt fuelled by, the emergence of academics as glittering beings, a phenomenon in itself fuelled by media attention regularly paid to universities. It was said, not entirely jokingly, that you could tell a top academic from the number of BBC contracts in his breast pocket. (Or first-class air tickets, and there were other variations, though it was invariably 'he'.) The glitter couldn't be allowed to fade.

The result was that history, with what was now perceived to be its false empiricist allure, was replaced by sociology. Sociology was sexy and wouldn't let you down. (Malcolm Bradbury was right about that.) Hence, the readiness of the left to embrace Louis Althusser and the Parisian school of Marxist sociologists. (Which, however, some of the new right saw nothing odd about joining, a move the signed-up left Althusserians accepted without comment. 'Deep subjectivity' was for all the beautiful people.) And with this entirely opportunistic abandonment of history or empiricism or humanistic marxism came a new language, necessarily difficult because the new theory was difficult, so we were told, but as exciting as it was exacting. And with that came a severing of all those connections which had seemed to link the academy to a wider community. No more the common cause, and no more common sense - think of all those attempts to understand what Althusser might have meant by 'over-determination'. Actually, he meant no more than that history does some funny things to theory, but he couldn't very well say so because what would then happen to belief in his theory. Academics marched back inside the ivory tower and began to claim both 'praxis' and 'theoria' as ineluctably welded to a language which had painfully to be learned and with which few could hope to feel at ease, let alone understand. I remember one of our leading Theorists at an English Lecturers' Conference in the mid-1980s telling his audience that deconstructionists alone could provide an explanation for Reagan's nuclear policy (i.e. could deconstruct it, could de-mystify it to reveal its imperialist base). You can just imagine the excitement with which this news would have been greeted by CND and the women of Greenham Common, had they ever got to hear of it. All they had to do was bone up on Derrida and bingo! They'd at last be in an position to understand why they opposed the arms race. And I remember the stony silence which had earlier met E.P. Thompson's great essay, 'The Poverty of Theory', in which he proved, point by painstaking point, that Althusser had either never read Marx or was too stupid to have understood what he had read. We now know that Althusser hadn't read Marx, or rather that he'd read so little as to be confused by the few pages into which he'd dipped. Thompson was right. But if you tried saying so at the time you were 'the unwitting tool of reaction'. Why? Because of course Althusser's very obscurity was essential to his value: he sanctioned language as a barrier to communication. (This was also the time when we were asked to oppose 'the tyranny of lucidity'.) The same held true for Derrida and for Derrida's most ardent disciple, de Man. And with these two in particular the cancelling of history became total. As Tallis notes, the language of deconstruction not only doesn't have to point beyond itself, it cannot do so: no history here, thank you, not in this universe of the wall-to-wall text, where, to take an example that's to hand, the execution of Colonel Despard in 1803 can without any hint of irony be referred to as 'a moment of Foucauldian transition'. Only reactionaries, presumably, would be so benighted as to think that Despard had actually been hung.

So why does it still go on?-Two reasons, I think. One: critical theory as it became manifested in the 1960s wasn't all bad. It was also much more various than Tallis allows. Structuralist poetics at least reminded us that works of art are made and that the materials out of which they are made belong to cultural circumstance that aren't entirely in the control of the individual. (I can imagine Tallis saying 'well, who needed to be told that' and the answer is, those who were banging on about 'authenticity' and 'truth to life' - i.e. the Leavisians and their allies, who were then still the dominant force in the academy.) In addition, feminist critics were among those who unpicked assumptions about 'canon' and 'tradition' which had for too long been uninspected terms. Yes, yes, we all knew that, too, but the fact is that many important women writers have now gained the attention they never had before. (For further pointers see Sarah Maguire's excellent discrimination of postmodernisms, Poetry Review, Spring, 1994. I put this in a shorthand manner but after all I'm writing a letter.) And the formalist aesthetics associated with the belatedly discovered Bakhtin are here to stay. Two: nobody likes to admit that they've spent much time and energy on something that's a waste of both. Which is why Tallis can't expect an answer to his criticisms of the current orthodoxy. Look at the advertisements for jobs in departments of English. They may specify that an interest in, say, Renaissance women's writing will be an advantage, or they may hope for applications from a Romanticist or a modernist. (Sightings of eighteenth-century scholars nowadays are as rare and as little to be trusted as sightings of the Tasmanian tiger.) But the adverts will invariably insist that candidates have a good working knowledge of contemporary critical theory. Why? Because theory is any department's raison d'être, that's why. It's rigorous, it provides penetrating enquiry, hell, it uses foreign words. It has to be the real thing. It's an up-to-the-minute version of that Anglo-Saxon which older academics will remember was prescribed in large doses in order to make men of us. (Including the women.) Or it fearlessly unzips all claims to hierarchy and allows Mills and Boon to fall into the space once reserved for those discredited 'authors' more innocent ages thought of as major. Questions of value are, after all, ideologically determined, aren't they?

Well, yes, almost certainly so. This really is an important issue, probably the most important of all. And it has then to be noted that enquiries in the 1960s into how the canon came to be constructed were entirely beneficial, both because they led to crucial reappraisals (who will now believe that in the 1950s Hardy and Dickens were absent from most syllabuses and that Blake was by no means certain of a place?); and because they opened up the hidden ideological bases of 'disinterested' judgement. The question of value won't go away, nor should it be permitted to do so. Addressing it will, I am pretty certain, require us to recognise that some narratives are more important - and more real - than others. That's where history and therefore politics come in. It may also explain the apologetic note struck by certain theorists who are now, as Tallis rightly observes, keen to put as much daylight as possible between themselves and Derrida or 'Derrida', That at least is good news.



Raymond Tallis makes entertaining reading. His attack on Contemporary Literary Theory ('The Survival of Theory I: "He Never Said That", PNR 98) was most edifying. He boasts that his two books have convincingly routed modern theory by proving the following:

(1) The ideas behind Post-Saussurean Theory are mistaken.
(2) Even if the ideas behind Post-Saussurean Theory are not mistaken, their application is self-refuting (or 'refutating' as Tallis has it).
(3) Furthermore, even if these ideas are not mistaken and not self-refuting, they have no application in the world of Criticism beyond 'the pursuit of tenure in Humanities Departments'.

Tallis has cunningly modelled his strategy of argument on the venerable paradigm of the youngster who has just broken the kitchen window with his cricket ball.

(1) I did not break the window.
(2) Anyway, the window was broken before I threw the ball at it.
(3) And besides, if you had fitted shutters then my throw wouldn't have caused any damage, so it's your fault.

A traditional theorist might object that Tallis can't hold all three of these positions at once without self-contradiction: but as a deconstructionist I can see that this sort of contradiction is symptomatic of the way texts work, and Tallis's adoption of this textual strategy a fascinatingly postmodern and self aware tactic.

Tallis says: Deconstruction is wrong-headed, because certain theorists have published things that Tallis considers mistaken - and besides, De Man was a Nazi, and Deconstruction leaves its practitioners unable to distinguish between the death of Little Nell and the Basra Road Massacre. This charming piece of ad hominen argument is engaging, but rather problematic. I do not believe Tallis could find a single post-Saussurean theorist anywhere in the world who believes that there is no difference between 100,000 Iraqis dying in the war, and none dying (to cite his particular example). Most Academics are liberal people, in the fullest sense, and are rightly appalled at any loss of life. To suggest that the techniques we use to interpret the world are similar to the ones we use to interpret texts is not to say that we interpret the two things in exactly the same manner - nor does it make us Himmlers.

Tallis suggests that certain statements by Derrida (or whoever) are open to question, and that this somehow discredits the 'edifice he has constructed and christened 'Deconstruction'. Like Tallis, I don't agree with everything Derrida has written; but, then, I have never believed that one must wholeheartedly agree with everything a critic says to find that critic interesting, or even useful.

But I mustn't be tedious. Is there any point in my explaining the flaws in the ad hominen mode of arguing? Why spoil the fun. Literature is about fun, amongst other things, and literary criticism likewise. Long may Raymond Tallis frolic in the playroom of his indignant critical imagination.

Royal Holloway
University of London

The Easthope Corner

I have long believed that the really serious literary magazine should always include some touches of comic relief. So, for me, your recent discovery of The Letters of Anthony Easthope has been a real delight. I have read and re-read the examples you have published with increasing wonder and merriment.

Good jokes should never be explained, but I think it might be worthwhile to isolate some of the more richly comic moments. Two spring to mind.

First of all, there was the image of C.H. Sisson (PNR 97) as a sort of latter-day Georgian, serenely composing such gems of olde-worlde nostalgia as 'The Usk' and 'Over the Wall'. I particularly relished Easthope's description of this dear old chap - steeped for more than sixty years in the writings of Pound, Hulme, Lewis, Ford and Eliot - as the arch-opponent of 'modernist innovation'. (Almost as good was the idea of Geoffrey Hill as exponent of 'the private lyrical voice'.)

Even funnier, though, was what Easthope had to say (PNR 98) about the modernist masters themselves. As is often the case with good comic writers, Easthope at his most hilarious reaches a level of profundity: in this case, when he deplores the Daviean conspiracy to regard Yeats, Pound, Lawrence and Eliot as right-wingers. There is a touch of pregnant paradox in this. Easthope has said elsewhere that, in the sixteenth century, there is a connection between bourgeois ideology and the new metrical discipline of that age. But to suggest that there is 'a link between modernism and right-wing politics' is to endorse 'the prevailing climate of prejudice' against Yeats, Eliot and other neglected poets.

Not just a good joke, I thought, but a blow struck for liberty.


Antony Easthope's letter in PNR 99 misrepresents one of the major achievements of European criticism this century, namely, Donald Davie's delineation of modernism in English' and American poetry. Davie has shown, by painstaking and meticulous attention to the poetic text, not only that Pound, for example, is a modernist, but also what it is about Pound's modernism that justifies the claim for the greatness of his poetry. The evaluation is in part based on the quality of Pound's responsiveness to the natural world, as Davie's discussion of Canto 83 in Ezra Pound: Poet as Sculptor makes clear. The lines beginning 'and Brother Wasp is building a very neat house', lines suggestive of passages in Coleridge, Keats, Ruskin, and above all Hopkins, manifest in their tenderness and capacity 'for sympathetic identification with in human forms of life' an attitude of reverent Vigilance before the natural world: 'When the mind swings by a grass-blade/an ant's forefoot shall save you'.

The ant is independent of the mind, and it is in Pound's scrupulous regard for the otherness of what lives beyond him that the moral force of his poetry inheres, a moral force inseparable from poetic style. Easthope's response to this, in Poetry as Discourse, is a theory-engendered muddle. While ants are outside the mind, he says, the concept 'ant', the 'signified', 'remains indelibly inside language and so inside the human mind' (p. 140). Regrettably, there is no such thing as 'the concept "ant"', nor is there such a thing as an indelible idea, though there may be an enduring one. Furthermore, it is not intelligible to say of mind and language that they are entities possessed of an interior or an exterior. Therefore it makes no sense to say that there are ideas inside either one of them. Pound's attitude towards wasps, ants and the living world, the world of rain, clouds, chill sunrise and 'old Bulagaio's cat', is manifest in his poem, and is inseparable from the way his thought and feeling find expression. Pound's writing is the realisation of a detailed attention to, and love of, the outer world, a complex experience of mind that Davie in turn has given a full and imaginative response to. Easthope takes the vacuous statement that in 'poetic discourse' there is no question of 'watching things' (his emphasis) to be an appropriate comment on criticism of this order.

It is against this background that we can see the significance of the different kinds of writing that Davie recognizes as constructing what we call modernism, such as the differences between the assumptions of Pound, on the one hand, and those of Eliot and Yeats, on the other, the differences between the kind of poetry that attends to things beyond itself, and the kind of poetry that is concerned with its own processes of coming into being, the post-symboliste poetry of, for example, Four Quartets and 'Coole Park and Ballylee, 1931'. It is out of this sense of the complexity and many-sidedness of modernism that, in Thomas Hardy and British Poetry, Davie addresses the question of Hardy's importance for twentieth-century poetry in Britain, and his place in relation to the innovations of Pound and Eliot. He there makes it explicit that he sees Hardy, and the tradition indebted to his example, as selling poetry short. None the less, Davie leaves open the possibility that modern British poetry, for all its evident shortcomings and failures of nerve, is part of a complex response to modernism that is inseparable from the modernist enterprise as such. The value of British poetry lies in its commitment, against the odds, to notions of the civic and the human that it has been the more common practice of the moderns elsewhere to devalue. For Davie, it has been part of what makes for the value of poetry in this country that it has not simply discounted or dismissed subjectivity but has in various exemplary ways attempted to master it, Hardy's 'After a Journey' being but one major example of this. Here is a poem that challenges us to engage with the difficult poise its writing sustains between truth and truthfulness, a challenge that forces us to come to terms with a problem central to all post-Romantic and modernist poetry, the problem of sincerity. This is a poetic achievement whose subtlety is in no way inferior to that of, say, 'Le Cimetière Marin', and whose formal exigencies Davie has made clear.

That Davie's account of modernism is an outstanding critical accomplishment in a career of very great distinction indeed is a matter of fact, not opinion. Easthope attempts to belittle it by identifying Davie's approach with that of Alvarez, a critic Davie has been at pains to distance himself from (as Easthope well knows). It is a technique familiar from deconstruction, whereby two elements that seem to be opposed are found to be identical with each other. Easthope's case depends solely on ascribing to Davie the approving citation of Hardy's comment to Graves that 'vers libre would come to nothing in England'. However, Davie does not cite Hardy on this, he cites Sydney Bolt citing Hardy, and he does so in the context of commending to us Bolt's characterisation of the limitations of technique and moral understanding this view forced on those poets of the late 'teens and early twenties like Blunden and Sassoon who adhered to it (Thomas Hardy and British Poetry, p. 131). Furthermore, Davie's understanding of Pound's break with the pentameter is of a quite different order from Alvarez's (and Easthope's) Davie shows that Pound's metrical innovations have to do not merely with the repudiation of traditional forms (the iambic pentameter, for example) but with the dismemberment of the line. This engenders a new conception of poetic space and time, a conception that finds expression in a patterned integrity whose manifestation of the energies of the living world unites medieval with modern understandings of reality. Moreover, Davie's discussion of rhythm in the Cantos shows how much more there is to Pound's metrical innovations than simply the breaking of the pentameter. (In any event, how far can we say that Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, that quintessentially modernist poem, breaks with traditional metre?)

Easthope tells us that Davie 'implies' a link between modernism and right-wing politics. Davie implies no such thing: he has no need to. Pound's fascism does not have to be inferred. Is Easthope not aware of Yeats's sympathies, or that Celine was a Nazi? How would he characterise Eliot's political outlook? Would he wish to question the link between modernism and totalitarianism? What does he make of the political views of Wyndham Lewis, Brecht, Neruda, Aragon, Picasso, Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Vertov?

Easthope ends, as is his wont, with a quote from Lacan (as though that clinched any thing!), the pertinence of which is unclear. For Saussure, difference was the concept in terms of which language was to be explained. For Lacan (and Derrida), difference does not explain language, it creates it (and thus the world). If Easthope thinks that this was also the presupposition of modernism, he should say so. Articulate Energy gives good reasons for thinking such an idea misconceived.


Not Derrida

I read with interest Richard Francis's review of A Selection of the Poems of Laura Riding, edited by Robert Nye (PNR 98), but was astonished that your reviewer would find any 'Derridean sentiment' in a Laura Riding poem. Her vigorous argument with the deconstructionists is recorded widely, including in the pages of P.N. Review. Reading on into such phrases as 'differential paradox' and 'exploration of narrative limitations', I began to suspect that Laura Riding's poems were themselves being subjected to deconstructive strategies.

Those who wish to read Laura Riding's poems for their intended meanings should follow the advice of the book's editor and rely solely on the Oxford English Dictionary and its supplements. I would add that the close reading of her own poem, 'The Rugged Black of Anger', offered in Chapter 6 of A Survey of Modernist Poetry by Laura Riding and Robert Graves is an invaluable additional aid to understanding for readers who find her poems 'difficult' or 'obscure' (or Derridean).

After the publication of Riding's Collected Poems in 1938, Robert Fitzgerald wrote, 'Of all the contemporary poems I know, these seem to me the furthest advanced, the most personal and the purest.… The authority, the dignity of truth telling, lost by poetry to science, may gradually be regained. If it is, these poems should one day be a kind of Principia. They argue that the art of language is the most fitting instrument with which to press upon full reality and make it known.'

There can be no reconciliation between Riding's truth-telling and Derrida's wordplay. Or to put it another way, Laura Riding's poetry is to literary criticism as beauty is to fashion - if I may be allowed an explicitly un-Derridean sentiment.

Jacksonville, Florida


Sir, The author of a book is obviously in the hands of a reviewer. Surely though there is one inalienable right - particularly in the pages of a poetry magazine: namely, that the words accredited to a writer should be the ones he or she actually wrote.

Roger Caldwell, in his review of Alan Wall's Jacob, has failed to fulfil this professional sine qua non. He quotes Wall as writing: 'The twentieth century has been the great age of the abolition of the personal. This is what all scripture tells us.' All scripture tells us no such thing of course (for how on earth could it?), and neither did Wall. What he actually wrote was this: 'The twentieth century has been the great age of the abolition of the personal. And so the abolition of truth. Truth is always personal. This is what all scripture tells us.'

Readers of the review who do not know the book need to have such carelessness in citation pointed out, lest they take seriously the rest of the text, in particular the profoundly offensive accusation of 'a new low in Holocaust kitsch' - which is a crude attempt at abolition or perhaps demolition of Alan Wall's personal truth. The phrase is followed by a very confused sentence about science and death camps. But to defend a poetry book against false charges is to give them credence: if Roger Caldwell really believes what he writes, not only has he failed to read carefully an important, original and complex book-length poem, he has also quite obviously no experience of the real thing in Holocaust kitsch: e.g. a movie like The Night Porter - morally vacuous and cretinously psychologistic. Jacob, if I may quote from my own forthcoming review in MPT 'is a profound reflection on and of the nature of love and of community in a disenchanted godless world whose two most powerful explanatory models… are shown to have failed us in the person of the main character.'

I recommend that Roger Caldwell read as carefully as he can the critique of Schindler's List made by Claude Lanzmann (author of Shoah, one of a tiny handful of Holocaust masterpieces in any art form), before sounding off again about any work which takes the risk of thinking and feeling what Arthur A. Cohen called the tremendum.


I must take issue with what Roger Caldwell conceives to be the 'pernicious untruth… that science and objective thought lead us inexorably to the Gulags and the death camps of the mind'. Well, yes, this is precisely what has happened: the abuse of science has resulted in the twentieth-century voodooism of psychiatry: the earliest experiments in genocide were conducted on the 'mentally ill', and it was from psychiatrists in Germany and America that the Nazis took their cue. Caldwell, after missing the deadly humour in Ken Smith's poems, then goes on to deride the seriousness of Alan Wall's themes, stooping, at one point, to describe as 'holocaust kitsch' (a repulsive phrase) a passage which he inaccurately quotes. It is against those very standards which appear to be Caldwell's that Jacob and Tender to the Queen of Night must be considered triumphs.


Bryan Williamson tells a good tale (PNR 99) and extra 's' added by the poet really does make all the difference. Pity it isn't true. The large (very large) quotation, made without any kind of acknowledgement, is from my piece 'Blats' which may have been set by Williamson, I don't know but I doubt it, but was certainly never corrected as he claims by me. So it goes.

Am I put out? Not really. This is well in the spirit of concrete poetry. Just add my name somewhere.


It may he true that Geoffrey Hill's 'recent poems are clustered with enigmatic, principally martial, insignia, from the "soiled/banners" of "Behemoth" to "Sobieski's Shield'" (SJ. Ellis, PNR 98) but peace and quietude are also summoned. Sobieski's Shield is in fact a constellation (Scutum Sobieskii, proposed by Poczobut in 1777) and 'clustered', therefore, in this case, would seem to be more than an appropriate sobriquet. The poem itself, of course, has echoes of this, in 'the star-gazing planet out of which/lamentation is spun' and in 'the names/and what they have about them dark to dark'.


A brief response to Daniel Weissbort's apologia in PNR 99.

The word 'obscene', which he chides me for using with respect to the Serbian women's songs he translated, is taken from Tomislav Longinovic's introduction to Red Knight. If Mr Weissbort looks at page 10 of his own book, he will discover the phrase 'This "fifth" collection of so-called obscene (bezobrazne) songs…' That is why, in my review, I enclosed the word in quotation marks.

The phrase into which he attempts to read some ulterior intention, an attempt to 'get at' him on my part, means precisely what it says: 'a claim that does not seem to me to be ridiculous in anyway.'

I did not say what I thought of Audrey Jones's illustrations because I didn't think much of them and felt it was kinder not to say so. The omission was not due, as Mr Weissbort insinuates, to a lack of attentiveness on my part.

I should not have bothered to respond Mr Weissbort's remarks if they did not an issue of general significance. There is a contemporary tendency to indulge in more 'point-scoring' with the aim of giving the appearance of 'Winning' arguments. Too many of the recent letters to PN Review have been of this kind. It is tendency which denies genuine debate.

Hino-shi, Japan

Reviewer's errors appeared in the article on Geoffrey Hill by SJ. Ellis in PNR 98:

1. The correct title of a poem referred to throughout the essay as 'Cycles' is, in fact, 'Cycle';

2.mIn a quotation from the poem, 'Scenes with Harlequins', the phrase 'to speak the silence/that has arisen' should have read 'to speak to the silence/that has arisen'. Most regrettably, this error was repeated in the title of the article.

This item is taken from PN Review 101, Volume 21 Number 3, January - February 1995.

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