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PN Review 276
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This article is taken from PN Review 54, Volume 13 Number 4, March - April 1987.

Kenneth Cox's Criticism Donald Davie

Kenneth Cox was born in 1916. So it is to be supposed that he had another career behind him when in 1966 he emerged as a powerful critic of poetry, with 'The Aesthetic of Basil Bunting'. This appeared in William Cookson's Agenda; and re-reading it, one perceives that it could have appeared nowhere else. Perceiving that, one may perceive also, not reluctantly but with some surprise, that Agenda can be considered the most important literary magazine in Britain over the past thirty years. In the short term the claim must seem to be extravagant, particularly if 'most important' is taken to mean 'most influential'. And yet in a longer perspective it may well appear some day that Agenda has exerted more influence than magazines much better funded and better distributed.

It began in 1955 when William Cookson, then sixteen, sent some verses to Ezra Pound, who responded by sending a four-page publication called Strike, edited by William McNaughton. Two years later, when Cookson was editing a Westminster School literary magazine, The Trifler, he sent Pound a copy in which he had reviewed Rock-drill. Pound responded with animation. He was then still incarcerated in St Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington D.C. After his release in 1958 and his return to Italy, Pound arranged for William Cookson and his mother to visit him there. And, wrote Cookson, 'the idea of Agenda grew from this visit'. There could hardly be a more telling example of how the continuity of literary culture, ...


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