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This item is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

THE Faber & Faber Spring and Summer 1983 Catalogue includes a range of distinguished books and anthologies of poetry and the announcement of the new Faber poetry cassettes. There is one book listed there, however, which seems out of character for Faber or any other serious imprint: Hard Lines edited by Ian Dury and including verse, prose and drawings by the sort of young people who-it is true-do not normally get a look in in the world of literary publishing. The book has had an unenthusiastic critical reception, but it was prepared for this and pre-emptively rejected the sort of criticism it has received. It has sold well and is reprinting. It is being used, I am told, as a 'teaching resource'. When I expressed surprise at seeing so bad a book on so traditionally good a list, I was chided by one of the book's advocates for being 'elitist' and 'an intellectual snob'. It was not the kind of book to which conventional literary standards applied, I was told.

The book will be reviewed by Dick Davis in PNR 34.I want here to consider the publisher's blurb. It is an example of the confusion which occurs when the need of a publisher to turn a profit mounts a cause, a fashionable hobby-horse, and rides off in disregard of the implications and consequences of its adventure. The terms of the blurb call in question not only notions of value judgement; they question the values on which the Faber list itself rests, the idea of a common culture to which-if we wish to make the effort-we all have access. And they question these values in terms of an alternative common culture-rejecting the 'common' of 'understanded of the people' and advancing, instead, the 'common' (to quote the blurb) of 'the predicament of an uncertain future and, often, an indifferent culture'. 'Indifferent' has its newer meaning of 'unresponsive' rather than 'second-rate'.

The blurb intends to challenge. It quotes Ian Dury: 'we all have brains and feelings; we are all equally capable of changing the world by creating a world of our own'. The publisher glosses this solipsistic nonsense with the following sentence: 'The writers and artists who have contributed to Hard Lines have not merely decided to create a world of their own, a world that reflects the society in which they find themselves; they have been forced to do so by neglect.' It continues, 'Here, perhaps for the first time, are the voices of the new generation as they have never been heard before.' Packed into these non sequiturs are all the sacred cattle of the late 1960s. Anyone who writes is a 'writer', anyone who doodles and sketches is an 'artist'. They create a world (what a hubristic 'not merely'!), but in the next phrase they hold a mirror up to the existing society. They have their cake and eat it and are forced to do so by neglect. They are neglected by what they themselves, in the terms of their writing and art, evidently neglect or reject. They have not listened, but they demand to be heard.

They have been judged wanting (if they have been judged at all) by the epigones of traditional, hidebound literary culture-editors, publishers and critics. It is impossible, from Ian Dury's perspective, that they are wanting in some crucial respects: 'we are all equally capable', after all. The publisher insists that all the pieces are 'enormously fresh and vital'. The fact that most of the work included is crudely derivative in language and sentiment has not, apparently, struck the publisher of Pound, Eliot, Auden, Larkin and Gunn.

The publisher attacks other publishers in his closing paragraphs by echoing a question heard on BBC television's 'Something Else' programme: why, traditionally, do British publishers 'not seem to take an interest in new kinds of work for new kinds of readers'? They add, 'This volume attempts to meet that question head on, to bridge the gap. It is not an end, but a beginning.' Is there an echo of Eliot in that last sentence?

The 'new readers' are-it appears-not browsers but school-children, those sitting ducks for whom the book is a facile text. The new kinds of work are the sincere effusions any editor is familiar with. The gap is, of course, a gap of literacy: children have been encouraged -not taught-to write rather than read.

Blurbs seldom have the ring of general manifestos. This one does and that is why it should detain us. It may be a harbinger of change at Faber & Faber, a firm whose backlist must be almost intimidating in its excellence. It has in common with the manifestos of other aggrieved groups a stridency and an assertiveness in the teeth of anticipated criticism. It is not prejudiced, 'they' are. We are.

With PNR 33 we add three names to our masthead-three advisory editors who are longstanding and valued contributors to our pages. They will continue the work they have done, Dick Davis with his regular reviews of new anthologies and chapbooks, John Pilling attending to translations, and Nicolas Tredell to criticism and periodicals. All three will continue to contribute to the body of the magazine as well.

This item is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
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