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)
Christopher MiddletonNotes on a Viking Prow
(PN Review 10)
Next Issue Gwyneth Lewis ‘Spiderings’ Ian Thomson ‘Fires were started: Tallinn, 1944’ Adrian May ‘Traditionalism and Tradition’ Judith Herzberg ‘Poems’ translated by Margitt Lehbert Horatio Morpurgo ‘What is a Book?’
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Reader Survey
PN Review Substack

This item is taken from PN Review 52, Volume 13 Number 2, November - December 1986.

Is PN Review one magazine or two? Has it one rule for its poets, story-writers and novelists, and another for its critics? Can a journal publish criticism by Nicolas Tredell and poetry by Christopher Middleton, or interview Roy Fuller and at the same time feature John Ash's poems, and claim any coherence?

From its first issue a dozen years ago, PN Review has been a radical literary magazine. Quite apart from features about, interviews with and reassessments of Edgell Rickword, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Adrian Stokes, Edward Upward, Simone de Beauvoir, Zbigniew Herbert, Natalia Ginzburg, Jean Genet and others, there have been important contributions from Laura (Riding) Jackson, Christopher Middleton, John Ashbery, John Ash, Octavio Paz, Stephen Bann, Jeffrey Wainwright - a list that could be much extended.

PN Review has also been a conservative journal in its concern for continuities, its scepticism about critical and ideological orthodoxies. And this scepticism our critics have seen as our distinctive orthodoxy.

Is it inconsistent that we pursue what is, on balance, an inclusive and radical policy towards the poetry, fiction and some of the prose essays we feature, while at the same time taking a stand against critical practices which in our view impoverish the liturgy, narrow and politicize literary studies and reject dialogue and debate as a liberal miasma, an attempt to assimilate and repress irreversible challenges? Is it inconsistent to reject the de rigueur relativism of the new orthodoxy (or orthodoxies) and at the same time not to promote the work of any one school of poets or critics? Ever since the time of our confrontation with Stand twelve years ago, we have been challenged to declare a politics, as though we had one mind and could abstract a political generality from it, independent of particulars. Our work has been characterized as conservative and Conservative because we have neither declared nor agreed a consensus among editors or contributors, and the recently extended masthead marks a further dilation of editorial view. Yet there has been a detectable editorial orientation, wary and less than tentative in its discriminations.

I believe that only a journal conservative in its critical approach can remain receptive to a range of new writing. Less catholic journals seek out work which illustrates or enforces their preferences. It is not taste or judgement but propriety and decorum that determine their editorial choice. The particularism which makes it possible to include A.D. Hope and Les A. Murray among the Australians, John Ashbery and Richard Wilbur among the Americans, and C.H. Sisson and Christopher Middleton among the British, with a sense of the complex traditions in which these writers are rooted, is unfortunately rare.

Our intention from the first issue was to produce a forum for debate. Arguments we regarded with suspicion would not pass unopposed, to be sure, but they would, we promised, be treated seriously. Some important debate has occurred. But it has not been sustained. Our recent issue on The New Orthodoxy brought many conflicting voices together, but out of that cacophony emerged a sense of critical discourses so foreign to one another as to be mutually incomprehensible.

Ever since Poetry Nation was founded in 1972, some writers have refused to contribute, finding the word Nation suspect, though my intention in choosing the title was to suggest a republic of letters and not narrow nationalism, an intention disclosed in the editorial content of every issue.

It is disappointing to learn from Sarah Maguire ('Letters', PNR 51) that we are so hostile to the feminist position that she cannot write for us. Nicolas Tredell answers her in this issue. What troubles me is that she - and others like her - have written the magazine off. Editors shape a magazine, but contributors, solicited and unsolicited, correspondents and critics make it.

When it comes to feminist criticism, I confess that I am more drawn to the rigorous analyses of figures such as Hélène Cixous than to the approach of Dale Spender, more interested in the Des Femmes than in the Women's Press list. But like any reader I stand to be corrected. If an important critical movement confines PNR to what Wyndham Lewis called the 'impalpable dark prison of neglect by refusing to engage in dialogue, not only is the journal the poorer: the movement is the weaker. It calls its own seriousness into question. What troubles me is that writers engaged in a critical movement which contests what it perceives as our tenets should refuse to challenge us. The hegemony is theirs, not ours.

The poetry we publish, the critical gauntlets we throw down, the coats we trail, declare our intent. It is not an idle desire for knockabout but a belief that without dialogue, however harsh, criticism and the literature it advocates, interprets and serves will become factionalized. The various non-communicating languages of contemporary criticism are already specialized, limiting themselves more and more to the prison of the academy and those élites with the leisure and patience to pursue them. Criticism traditionally has created space for literary activity, by its interpretations and discriminations, keeping the arts of writing in the open, unconfined and unspecialized, among people like-minded only in their passion for poetry and fiction.

We can only renew the invitation.

This item is taken from PN Review 52, Volume 13 Number 2, November - December 1986.

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