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

This report is taken from PN Review 40, Volume 11 Number 2, November - December 1984.

Reading Magazines Nicolas Tredell
Temenos, no. 4 (1983) £6.00. 47 Paultons Square, London SW3 5DT.
Oxford Poetry I, 2 (Autumn 1983) £1.00. Magdalen College, Oxford OX1 4AU.

New Poetry from Oxford (May 1983) £1.00. Bill Herbert, Brasenose College, Oxford.

The Cambridge Poetry Magazine, nos. 1, 2 (Autumn 1983, Spring 1984) £1.75 and £1.95. 602 King's College, Cambridge CB2 1ST.

The Poet's Voice (1983) £3.75 p.a. 12 Dartmouth Avenue, Bath.

Label II (November 1982) 45p. 57 Effingham Road, Lee Green, London SE12.

The mystical is a dangerous mistress. The aims of Kathleen Raine's magazine Temenos- to set itself against contemporary 'reductionist atheism' and promote a view of the arts as the ' "normal" language of sacred knowledge' are, to an extent admirable, and there are certainly worthwhile things in this fourth issue: Jeremy Reed's poem 'The Country Through the Looking-Glass': reproductions of Thetis Blacker's Batik pictures (striking, to say the least) based on Farid Ud-Din Attar's Sufi poem The Conference of the Birds: Seyyed Hossein Nasr's commentary, both scholarly and celebratory, on that poem; Czeslaw Milosz's account, from his forthcoming The Land of Ulro, of the engineer turned eccentric visionary, Swedenborg. But doubts about the whole tenor of the magazine remain; Milosz's account quotes, though in dissent, a Polish cliché about writers who take a serious interest in religion - 'he succumbed to mysticism' - and it must be said that Temenos is in some danger of succumbing to mysticism, of allowing the lure of the esoteric, the ecstatic, the transcendent, the neo-Platonic to lead it too far from mundane reality. The world can be with us too little as well as too much.

Oxford Poetry has its feet much more firmly on the ground. This lively second issue offers carefully crafted poetry and crisp discussion. In Triumphs, Peter McDonald's 1983 Newdigate Prize Poem, we have a sense of a lyric, romantic impulse (Shelley, Swinburne, early Yeats and Larkin all come to mind) contained by craft, by restrained rhythm and diction:


Time passes with exemplary precision.
Today there are almost no clouds, the sky
is as it would be in a perfect summer
and the waves are performing their light music.
Here, if anywhere, in imagined heat,
he is able to find some kind of release
to bring him home, or let him build again
something that looks exactly like his home.


In an 'interview' - which in fact substitutes a series of headings for questions - Anne Stevenson makes a range of interesting observations on poetry and on her own poetic career. She talks of the influence on her work of Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath; remarks that current English poetry abounds in technical skill but lacks purpose; and says that the Martians are 'not really interested in language, only in effects'. She also has a provocative comment on what is currently that most solemn of subjects, Evaluating Women Poets: 'how I do wish we could stop thinking women, women, women, all the time! Either we're good poets or we're not. There can't be two sets of rules.' If Oxford Poetry can maintain the mixture of poetic craft and critical crispness evident in this issue, its future looks promising.

New Poetry from Oxford opens with an awkward manifesto. In the act of writing, the poet is not the creator, but the created, of his poem. Nonetheless, he has a duty 'to consciously pursue the unconscious' and to 'selfconsiously present this pursuit in the poetic whole'. One feels that a poet who took this advice might find himself overburdened with consciousness. The unpromising prologue is followed by poems that are fairly run-of-the-mill, even if in an 'experimental' way. The names of the poets, though given on the 'Contents' page, are not printed above or below their poems, perhaps to discourage odious comparisons, and the poems do indeed seem to merge into an indistinguishable mass of verbal imprecision. There is a disturbing lack of concern for precise diction and evocation - in, for instance, the loose metonymies of Martyn Crucefix's 'At the National Gallery': 'What am I to do with these angels' wings,/with the literalness of these gaping heavens/and haloes in the early galleries?'. It might be argued that the failure to perceive these paintings is one of Crucefix's themes - they are 'out of reach of meaning' - but as writing in a boring way is not the best means to convey boredom, so imperceptive writing is not the best way to convey imperception. New Poetry from Oxford is disappointing; it seems unfortunate that a group of presumably highly intelligent people involved in writing and discussing poetry could not have produced something more interesting.

Compared to its two Oxford cousins, which have modest formats, The Cambridge Poetry Magazine is a larger, assertive affair, splashed with big names. The production is, arguably, rather too lavish, and space sometimes seems wasted, as in the first issue Ian Peter Shield's mildly amusing anti-limerick sits alone on an A4 page. But though the poetry does not quite live up to the promise of the production, it is a strong selection. The orientation of the magazine is Anglo-American, with more American than Anglo in these first two issues: for example, Kinnell, Rexroth, Jeffers, Snyder, Oppen, Bly, Nemerov. There are also poems from, among others, Czeslaw Milosz and R. S. Thomas, and from poets based in Cambridge. Among these latter, Steve Xerri, who, according to his contributor's note, 'teaches English freelance in the University and plays in pop group Perfect Vision', offers a five-poem sequence called 'Yuri Gagarin: From the Life', which has possibilities, though Xerri is sometimes too relaxed, content not to push his language as far as it might go. This is Gagarin recalling his grandmother, who is, in turn, recalling her pre-revolutionary past:


Some evenings, she would talk about her childhood;
how she made kasha for her brothers who worked the fields,
and lotions for their hands, with boiled gorse leaves.
We would eat a square or two of chocolate, or segments of orange.
I threw the peel on the fire to hear it hiss
and smelled the oil on my fingers afterwards.
A friend of the family's, she said, was cut down by cossacks.


One hopes that The Cambridge Poetry Magazine will continue to combine well-known with lesser-known, emergent poets. Its smart production makes me uneasy that it might, like the revamped Granta, let itself get too concerned with 'big names'.

'We hope to give as full a picture of contemporary poetry as space and the inclinations of poets allow'. This is the ambitious aim of Fred Beake for his small, spiral-bound magazine The Poet's Voice. Identifying two kinds of existing poetry magazine - those which `tread . . . a very safe and middle way' and those 'devoted to the difficult (if often excellent) work of the avant garde' - he says that The Poet's Voice is, in distinction from these, 'interested in all types and all schools of poetry'. But this issue does rather lean towards the avant garde. Its major feature is a 'retrospective' of the poetry of Bill Griffiths, whom Beake calls 'one of the most considerable artists of our time'. Here is an example of Griffiths' work:


N.
wh brt
abv Babylon
tlkd t robins (fizzy-brth)
by its major THAT I hv built
I hv top in gold


Scrambling meaning, disrupting standard syntax and orthography, Griffiths offers some enjoyable and intriguing moments, but I cannot see the basis for Beake's large claim. Perhaps he can enlighten us. The most interesting poem in this issue seems to me to be Wendy Mulford's 'Movement and Allegory'. I have previously encountered Mulford as an aggressive polemicist for postructuralist-Marxist-feminism, and she is relatively unusual among English radical critics in that she is also a poetic practitioner, in this kind of mode:


Somewhere tonight Bali fingers the moving sky dusted with silver thread
a violin concerto all your own. How do you pull out under that.
I cannot find a way except let's pretend but the space in your eyes
but the space in your eyes shows through like beaten pulp.


Presumably her poem exemplifies that 'revolutionary practice in the field of the signifier' she advocates in On Gender and Writing (ed. Michelene Wandor, p. 32). It also shows, in its referential instability and ironic-nostalgic lyricism, the 'influence' (the term is a solecism in post-structuralist circles) of John Ashbery.

The poems in the second issue of Label - a little magazine with very small, sometimes faint print - show that the spirit of Children of Albion lives on. There is, for instance, a superficial, embarrassing slickness, as in Martyn Wiley: 'The plane climbs, Manhattan turns,/I want to get off, grab a passing/building and slide to the ground'; a pop-surrealistic element, for example in Dick Wilcocks: 'Customers are corpses/Posed in scattered, rotting coffins'; crude 'protest' verse from S. Russell Jackson: 'See-Saw, marching to war,/Neutrons will be our new masters'; and a mixture, in David Harmer, of pseudo-toughness - 'demolished foulmouthed/struck by several nasty blows' - and sentimentality - 'the gold of your hair/like the evening sun/on the upland pastures'. There are hints of better things, for instance in Paul Jackson's 'Fight' and Paul Beasley's untitled poem (though this collapses at the end); but more editorial rigour is needed. In an accompanying note, Beasley, who is the editor, says that his magazine's problem is a lack, not of subscribers, but of contributors. Let us hope that more contributors, of quality, can be found.
NICOLAS TREDELL

This report is taken from PN Review 40, Volume 11 Number 2, November - December 1984.



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