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This item is taken from PN Review 173, Volume 33 Number 3, January - February 2007.

PN Review 173 sees out the magazine's thirtieth anniversary year on foot. Along with much else, there are three 'pedestrian' essays in this issue that, like Donald Davie's illuminating essay 'The Cantos: towards a pedestrian reading' (1972), explore at once language and the objects it fixes upon, orders and transforms. This kind of writing stays close to what is really there, in the world and in the poem.

On 9 April 1811 the young Thomas Love Peacock sent his publisher and friend Edward Hookham a description of his walk home from Merionethshire to London, one of the wholly joyful letters in the English language. He was in love with Jane Gryffydh, 'the most innocent, the most amiable, the most beautiful girl in existence', whom he had left behind knowing that she reciprocated his feelings. It was spring and he was alive in an amazing landscape:

Yesterday morning, walked through a succession of most sublime scenery to the pretty little lake, Tal-y-llyn, where is a small public house, kept by a most original character, who in the triple capacity of publican, school-master, and guide to Cadair Idris, manages to keep the particles of his carcase in contact. I ascended the mountain with him, seated myself on the Giant's Chair, and 'looked from my throne of clouds o'er half the world'. The view from the summit of this mountain baffles description. It is the very sublimity of Nature's wildest magnificence. Beneath, the whole extent of Cardigan Bay: to the right, the immense chain of the Snowdonian mountains, partly smiling in sunshine, partly mantled in flying storm: to the left, the wide expanse of the southern principality, with all its mountain-summits below us. - This excursion occupied five hours. I then returned to Minffordd Inn, as he calls it, took some tea, and walked hither through a romantic and beautiful vale. - The full moon in a cloudless sky illumined the latter part of my march [...]. I have a clean shirt with me, and Luath [Peacock's dog, named after Cuchullin's and Fingal's dogs in the Ossianic poems of Macpherson], and Tacitus. I am in high health and spirits. [...] On the top of Cadair Idris, I felt how happy a man may be with a little money and a sane intellect, and reflected with astonishment and pity on the madness of the multitude.-

The uncomplicated relationship between landscape, language and sensibility belongs at once to youth and to an earlier age, a cultural as well as a biographical innocence. Peacock's novels are in quite another register. The irony of his maturity goes deep. His fiction, even when he is sending up his contemporaries, is invariably, and totally, fictional. It is not, as Pound's poems are, susceptible to a continuous pedestrian reading, however vivid the sideboard and the beetling, ivied battlements with their comic hauntedness.

Writing with unguarded editorial candour to a Miss King in 1855, Charles Dickens comments on a story she submitted for publication. 'The people do not sufficiently work out their own purposes in dialogue and dramatic action. You are too much their exponent; what you do for

them, they ought to do for themselves...' There is no record of how she took the medicine. Not well, the editor in me suspects. In another letter he observes that popularity is founded usually on the weakness rather than the strength of the author; because that weakness (sentimentality, thematic 'relevance', melodrama) is popular a writer is tempted to revisit it, to live in and on it. A weakness can be an early strength developed to the point of mannerism. Dickens has such weaknesses, but his work is marked by a progression in complexity, depth and vision. He led his audience, chapter by chapter. He changed, and he changed them.

Dickens, with his own magazines, controlled the means of production and developed his freedom shrewdly, at once knowing his readership and committed to his fictional worlds. It is in some ways harder for the modern poet or novelist. Public expectation is in some respects more tyrannical than ever, its attention span shorter, its tolerance of 'difficulty' of theme or allusion and of formal invention uncertain. The publishing industry exists to 'give the market what it wants'. Those who interpret those wants can be dreadfully patronising. The main evidence at their disposal is yesterday's and last week's sales figures.

When an editor focuses first on the imagined market's wants and not on the writer's work, the literary odds is gone. The compliant author becomes a supplier working within parameters, categories, genre, to specifications, as it were. If there are surprises, they are likely to be devised by inventive marketing departments with their skill at personalising the literary product. The uncompliant author with an uninspiring marketing profile has an uphill struggle.

Reflecting on what PN Review has done and what or who, if anything or anyone, it represents, I think of those writers whose work we have featured over the years, writers who do not conform, who challenge themselves and challenge us as readers - from Edgell Rickword and W.S. Graham, poet-critic and poet respectively, in the early issues through Donald Davie and C.H. Sisson, Laura (Riding) Jackson and Ian Hamilton Finlay, Eavan Boland and John Ashbery, Christopher Middleton and Les Murray, R.F. Langley and David Gervais, Elaine Feinstein and Sinead Morrissey, Frederic Raphael and Marilyn Hacker... Looking at the two metres of archived PN Reviews, it seems to me that the magazine has been, and remains, the road less travelled by, somehow apart, in an attitude of positive creative and critical resistance. It has followed a particularist route, and what mattered and matters to it is what matters to its writers. Octavio Paz said, and demonstrated with his own periodical ventures, how crucial it is to have such accessible spaces at the edge of the cackle of parties and factions, on the outskirts of the mere market place.

C.H. Sisson wrote in the 'Preface' to his first Collected Poems, In the Trojan Ditch, that the tact of the writer, 'as the inevitable facility comes', is to reject 'whatever appears with the face of familiarity'. The editor's task is not unlike that. Editors travel on foot, looking out for what is really there. Sometimes it isn't, but sometimes it is. And when it is, it is there regardless of yesterday's sales figures, market surveys and the inventive machinations of the marketing department. Such indices are indicative, too, but rather more of where we have been than of where we might be going. They are commercial even when they call themselves democratic. They are disablingly conservative.

This item is taken from PN Review 173, Volume 33 Number 3, January - February 2007.

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