Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
John McAuliffeBill Manhire in Conversation with John McAuliffe
(PN Review 259)
Patricia CraigVal Warner: A Reminiscence
(PN Review 259)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Gwyneth Lewis ‘Spiderings’ Ian Thomson ‘Fires were started: Tallinn, 1944’ Adrian May ‘Traditionalism and Tradition’ Judith Herzberg ‘Poems’ translated by Margitt Helbert Horatio Morpurgo ‘What is a Book?’
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Reader Survey
PN Review Substack

This item is taken from PN Review 57, Volume 14 Number 1, September - October 1987.

I tend to use the word 'fashionable' in a pejorative sense, to suggest that anything which is popular in a sudden or exaggerated way is necessarily suspect. Such short-hand is misleading - I even mislead myself. Misleading too is what one reader called the 'knee-jerk tolerance' PNR extends to critical approaches which it ought to regard as anathema, were the editorial approach to criticism consistent with the poetry and fiction that we publish.

In an attempt - not always successful - to encourage discussion, we have solicited contributions which might have blurred, to some extent, the focus PNR had in its earlier years. The changes in the masthead and in the balance of contents to include fiction have signalled changes in orientation. PNR has been 'in at least two minds', and will remain so in many areas, whatever the underlying consensus among the editors. We call this 'catholic'. Others might call it eclectic. I used to speak - borrowing Octavio Paz's phrase - of 'pluralism'. That seems to me serviceable still, falling as it does between a catholic approach which rests upon essentially liberal assumptions and an eclecticism which, were it applied consistently, would admit the critical and literary extravagances fundamentally hostile to the inclusions and the inclusiveness of PNR.

Sometimes I can be persuaded that we publish too much consideration of critical theory. At other times it is clear that we publish too little to make a contribution to the debates within and between the various discourses currently on offer. I am content - because of the centrality of poetry and fiction to our concerns - that PNR should inform readers and content itself with being a skirmishing - rather than a battle-ground for rival camps. Where precisely do we stand, the critic asks? The only definitions we can offer are in the creative contents of the magazine and in the reviews which evidence (I tend to think) a general coherence, though it cannot be reduced to consistency. Are we over-tentative? Only, I think, while we try to encourage skirmishing. We have not been notably successful. Perhaps we will soon accept the fact that rival critical discourses are so polarized that dialogue between them - in the form we can offer it, in terms intelligible to general readers - is beyond the scope not only of the magazine but of the discourses themselves.

But back to that word 'fashionable'. As editor and publisher I have been troubled, not so much by the success of certain writers whose work seems to me factitious and facile, as by the neglect of work which seems to me important, generative, which extends English poetry (poetry remains my own prime concern) and yet is displaced by the partisan trumpeting that goes on in various media. Why, for instance, have Muir and Watkins gone for such long periods out of print? Why have the poems of Sisson, Barker and Graham not had their due? Why have so few critics been equal to the challenges proposed by Donald Davie's later work? Why did so few reviewers take seriously The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy? Among our younger poets, why has John Ash, like Christopher Middleton before him, found it necessary to emigrate? Why has the work of Edgell Rickword and other writers of his generation been neglected? HD, Wyndham Lewis, Roy Campbell, Hugh MacDiarmid - even now they are hardly taken to heart. Why have so few serious critics taken the radical challenges of the poetry and the later criticism of Laura (Riding) Jackson seriously? What of the neglect of E.J. Scovell, Elizabeth Daryush, Charlotte Mew? What of the failure to address the critical issues raised by the works and battles of Ian Hamilton Finlay? The list might be extended - and perhaps it should. These writers would not wish to be fashionable, yet their work is at the heart of our literary culture. Their neglect - the obverse of the exaggerated regard in which some writers are held - is impoverishing. If Barker were read seriously, would it be possible to read Peter Redgrove seriously? If MacCaig had his rightful due, would the Martians be regarded as original? If Ian Hamilton Finlay - as poet and critic - were given his due, would our literary culture not become at once more committed and more decent in its dealings with the medium of language, an instrument which, if literary culture is to thrive, must be used precisely? The media which create fashion impoverish readers (and writers) by omission and by commission. I do not see why the best writers should change. As for the dead, unless journalism unearths some scandal about them, they cannot be changed. I believe the market could change. Or be changed. Changed into 'readership', engaged ...

This item is taken from PN Review 57, Volume 14 Number 1, September - October 1987.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
Searching, please wait... animated waiting image