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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This item is taken from PN Review 182, Volume 34 Number 6, July - August 2008.

Editorial
I met C.B. (Brian) Cox at the Arts Council in its grand building at 105 Piccadilly in 1970. How remote that period is! There was still an Arts Council of Great Britain, the national office dispensing largesse to the whole nation. Its budget was modest (especially for literature), and the director of each art form took advice from a committee of individuals with specialist knowledge. Literature's Director was the charming belletrist and bon viveur Eric Walter White, his deputy the biographer, opera writer and witty conversationalist Charles Osborne; and the committee included writers, critics, broadcasters, publishers and translators. I was recruited as a 'Junior Member' because I had set up a publishing house dedicated to poetry.

Brian Cox, Professor of English at Manchester, was then in the thick of the Black Papers on Education controversy. He had also established a Poetry Centre at the University and wanted to recruit a Poetry Fellow (one of the first Writing Fellowships in the United Kingdom). He liked the idea of employing a writer-editor. With prescience he wrote to me in January 1972, 'I find this all very exciting. If this came off the Manchester Poetry Centre would have attached a major publishing venture in poetry which would be in a good position to weather the storms which may lie ahead in publishing.' Those storms most certainly came. And Brian's shrewd plans worked. He knew how Universities functioned at that time on a balance of vision and inertia, so that once a thing was set in motion it might run on for ever. In this respect, too, times have changed.

He secured funding for the Fellowship from the Gulbenkian Foundation and by August 1972 his optimism was compelling. He would (and he did) 'browbeat the V.C.' and the powers that then were until they gave him all he needed. His August letter, a month before we became colleagues in 1972, ended with an Eliotic cadence: 'I shall repose on my back in the lake at Thun thinking on these things.'

Soon we hatched the idea of publishing a distinctive new magazine, something quite different from Critical Quarterly which he had set up with A.E. Dyson in the late 1950s and which did so much to establish the generation of Thom Gunn, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, R.S. Thomas, Seamus Heaney and Sylvia Plath. Poetry's readership was changing, he believed, and it required a different kind of journal. Critical Quarterly had addressed intelligent sixth formers and curious schoolteachers. Poetry Nation, its very title proclaimed, addressed a wider constituency. We put together a brief editorial statement which concluded with a rousing declaration:

[...] The writers who most interest us as editors differ widely in their views of what the ends of poetry should be, but a substantial agreement exists in their view of the means: the necessary intelligence that must be brought to the poetic act (whether of writing or of reading), the shaping of adequate forms, and, equally important, the responsibilities to a vital linguistic and formal heritage, to a living language, to a living community.


In retrospect it looks like a manifesto of New Formalism avant la lettre. The magazine, originally a twice-yearly hard-cover book, was to prove Protean. The first major transformation came in 1976 when Brian and I were joined as editors by Donald Davie and C.H. Sisson, poets of contrasting temperaments, one out of the Movement, the other with connections to the Apocalypse, both committed readers of Pound. From twice-yearly hardback we leapt to quarterly and then to bi-monthly A4 paperback periodicity. The editorial process became at times creatively discordant.

Brian was a catalyst in the world of poetry, one of the most generous, attentive and consistent critics and champions down the years. He died late this April at the age of 79, My Eightieth Year Before Heaven as he called it in his last collection of poems. In that book he puzzles at his postponed mortality - he survived with cancer beyond the doctors' expectations. He set his life in the balance against the permanence of great works of art and the promised transcendence of love. An uninsistent but celebratory and serene summa of the values and passions (human and cultural) which gave him energy as a teacher, educationalist, editor and writer emerge from the book. 'I revere Joe Gargery,' he says in a late poem. That reverence was at once a declaration and an aspiration.

Fifteen years ago, interviewed in these pages by Nicolas Tredell, he declared: 'I've been extraordinarily fortunate in having a very successful marriage and in having very good relationships with my three children... I feel that kind of loving relationship is the centre of everything in the end, and I still have some belief that it matters eternally.' The last poem in his last book, a meditation on what follows death, ends with the line: 'Also there's always love, there's always love.'

A part of that love he dedicated to colleagues and friends. In education he will be remembered chiefly for two contradictory achievements, outcomes of his commitment to education and to a culture of educational opportunity. He resisted challenges first from what he took to be reductive ideologies of the left, and then from corrosive Gradgrindian, utilitarian conservatism. The Black Papers on Education (1969-77) were followed by the Cox Report and Cox on Cox. The Great Betrayal: Memoirs of a Life in Education (1992) is the story of a life lived at a time when language in the public sphere was at its most treacherous. Even as he widened his sense of the canon, his hostility to cultural relativism remained constant. When New Labour emerged he grew optimistic, but later reflected, 'They talk about education, education, education, but they have done nothing to help the demoralised teaching profession... In fact they have demoralised it more since they took power.'

He knew what he had achieved in the public sphere. 'My dear Michael,' he reminded me more than once, 'without me there would have been no PN Review, no Carcanet.' But we had both failed to fight hard enough, he told me bluntly in 1985, against the forces that were routing what he referred to, unproblematically, as 'classical humanism', always the values of a minority that needed to remain articulate and impassioned. 'As Dean,' he said, 'I have moments of wondering if I am not preserving an Arts Faculty that may eventually represent those things I most detest.'

He was a partner in many enterprises and a godfather of others, and though he resigned on an issue of principle from PN Review 181 issues ago, he kept up with it as a reader, contributor and well-wisher, praising or criticising its changes. In recent years he concentrated on his own poetry.

It is pervaded by a Rilkean sense of celebration, the ironies sometimes harsh but never so harsh as to displace his characteristic humanism and social optimism. His poems take few formal risks. Their diction, like their candour, builds on his natural voice. They are marked by the civility and humanity of a generous man whose life of service made a difference in the worlds of literature, the arts and education.

This item is taken from PN Review 182, Volume 34 Number 6, July - August 2008.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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