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This item is taken from PN Review 97, Volume 20 Number 5, May - June 1994.

It may seem odd for a magazine to pay more than passing tribute to a 'competitor'. Less odd, if that competitor is a kind of progenitor. Without Agenda, PN Review would be a very different creature.

Agenda was amoung the first little magazines I encountered when I came to England. Though I learned to respect others, like Stand, and enjoy London Magazine and Poetry Review in their changing incarnations, it was Agenda, unpredictable in the schedule, homespun in feel, alternating substantial special issues with standard issues, that I followed with impatient attention. I do so still, twenty-five years later. This is not because Agenda and PNR share certain enthusiasms (there are as many or more points of difference) but beacuse Agenda is one of those voices from the past which is, one can only hope, a voice for the future too, an English place where Moderism happened, keeps happening, its challenges persist, unattenuated, unapologetic.

William Cooson recently compiled Adenga: an Anthology: the first four decades. The title is something of a misnomer since the magazine is three and a half decades old. But the actuarial tables for small magazines make depressing reading. Better to blow the trumpet while there is still force in the lungs. For a few months last year it seemed unlikely that Agenda would survive: this anthology might have been a 416 page tombstone.

Yet its publication coincides with a bumper issue of Agenda itself (£8.00), including an extended tribute to Kathleen Raine (whose magazine Temenos owed something to Agenda's example), major essays on Auden and others, new poems and reviews. This is the last issue to be published with Arts Council support. The Council advised the editors and board some time ago that subsidy would be phased out. There was a flurry of protest: the Council's decision may in the end prove to be suspension rather than expulsion from the fold. Meanwhile, thanks to donations and temporary alternative support, it is strongly surviving.

And survive it should, because what it provides is not to be found elsewhere. Agenda is the last of the authentic British'little magazines', polemical, consistent yet never predictable, a place of enchantment for the disenchanted, wary in the extreme of the attenuations of the post-Modern and the claims of theory. Its internationalism is discriminating and coherent. Not once in my recollection has it pursued the chimeras of fashion, preferring the long view and insisting that poems and poets earn their legitimacy not by popular vote or media endorsement but by inherent qualities of formal invention, linguistic resource. The earnestness of the enterprise is an at times rebarbative tonic: odd that this very English magazine should suffer so little from the facilitating critical and tonal ironies of the world on whose margins it has existed all these years. Unsettling, too, that it has not proven entirely immune to the infections of the 'new formalism'.

The new poetry it publishes does at times seem wan. This may in part be due to the brilliance of the lights Agenda steers by. Secondary work dims in the dazzle of Pound, David Jones, Williams, Bunting and MacDiarmid in the early issues, the 'Founders' represented in the opening pages of the anthology. They provided major poems to a journal of limited circulation which could afford to pay them little. Such acts of commitment by serious writers are a rule rather than an exception. Agenda has published important poems by Geoffrey Hill, Thom Gunn, C.H. Sisson, Donald Davie and others, often taking them up relatively early in their careers and following on. These poets feature in the second part of the book, 'A Sheaf of Poems', along with Anne Beresford, Peter Dale, Peter Levi, Alan Massey, Penelope Palmer and Tom Scott. Translations follow with pride of place going to Jean Cocteau's Leoun, memorably Englished by Alan Neame, and to Michael Hamburger's Hölderlin and Trakl. The editors insist equally on recoveries and rediscoveries.

It was the volatile Pound of the late 1950s that the young Cookson encountered, a dangerous, generous energy. His presence is recorded not only in the essays about him, but in other emphatic prose writings that Cookson includes. Major essays by T.S. Eliot and Donald Davie and critical appraisals of some of the figures crucial to the magazine demonstrate how Agenda has helped create a critical context in which the work it advocates can be valued.

Reconsiderations, memoirs by Bunting of Yeats and by Norman Rea of Geoffrey Hill, and finally a miscellany of pieces by Auden, Bunting, Hill, Levi and John Bayley, complete this diverse and coherent record of editorial creativity.

The anthology ends, where it began, with Ezra Pound. Cookson gathered 'gists' from the uncollected prose of his master. The last 'gist' reads: 'Even the Victorian era with its formula: Greece for the arts, Rome for the law the Hebrews for religion was trying to preserve elements, the main elements of different cultures, not, à la UNESCO, trying to melt out all distinctions and reduce the whole to a dull paste of common inhumanity.' That might describe Cookson's endeavour: 'trying to preserve elements, the main elements of different cultures'.

This item is taken from PN Review 97, Volume 20 Number 5, May - June 1994.

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