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This item is taken from PN Review 29, Volume 9 Number 3, January - February 1983.

In reply to Anthony Rudolf's letter (PNR 28) about his essay 'Logocrats' in PNR 27, regarding the translation of the phrase in Exodus 3:14, George Steiner writes: 'The tautology is virtually untranslatable: probably the best approximation is 'I am that which I am.'


Sir: I have always found in PN Review a hearteningly profound commitment and sensitivity to the poetic enterprise. I know of no magazine in which a concern with the nature and power of language is so fully and subtly developed.

I was therefore almost as much amused as appalled to read in PNR 28 that the philosophy of R. D. Laing is 'ostensibly addressed to the mentally ill'. Speaking-reluctantly-as one who has in the past been identified as mentally ill, may I suggest that this abominably nonsensical phrase should in future be used only in inverted commas, preferably with a sic and a couple of exclamation marks thrown in.


Sir: I have been authorised to edit for publication a selection of the letters of Hugh MacDiarmid and would like to hear from any of your readers who corresponded with the poet and have letters they could let me print.
Balbirnie Burns East Cottage
near Markinch, Glenrothes, Fife KY7 6NE


Sir: We wish to add a short and up-to-date (at the time of writing [June 6, 1982]) comment on your editorial concerning the Ian Hamilton Finlay Affair (PNR 23).

Knowing that the Scottish Arts Council Director has written letters supportive of Strathclyde Region's bureaucratic attacks on Finlay (whose garden temple is again the subject of a Sherriff's Warrant) we wrote to two artist-members of the SAC Art Committee, Alexander Moffat and Eileen Lawrence, inviting them to explain their reasons for conniving at the SAC's behaviour, including (also) the suppression of Finlay's documentation of works of his which are owned by the SAC. Neither artist replied. In what sense, then, do such committees represent 'the public' and what is to be said of a situation in which artists deliberately join a bureaucracy in the suppression of the work of a fellow artist? Are we alone in feeling that these SAC artists are on trial?

We would also like to draw your attention to a document issued from within Strathclyde Region, and sent by the SAC to the book dealer, Mr Martin Waters, in response to his enquiries about the Finlay Affair. This document, compiled by the Rates Section and titled 'Notes for Director of Finance', contains acurious Appendix which purports to be a list of letters received on behalf of Finlay. Not only is it incomplete-the letter sent by The Friends of Stonypath Garden to The Lanark Gazette is omitted along with many others to the Region-it also implies that this support is for the garden as distinct from the garden and temple, as is of course the case. Not only did The Friends of Stonypath Garden write about the temple, they actually paid half the rates-sufficient evidence, one would suppose, that they knew what state of barbarism they were writing about. Bradford, Yorkshire
New Areadians

The General Editor comments: Our pages are, as always, open to replies from the SAC, Mr Moffat, Ms Lawrence, the Strathclyde Region. . . . At the heart of this Affair is the refusal to enter into dialogue and the refusal of any bureaucratic committee, much less any individual, to respond to questions and criticisms.


Sir: I am grateful to Donald Davie for his stimulating article on Lorine Niedecker's 'Lake Superior' (PNR 25). It's warm, enthusiastic and informative, and draws attention to a poet hitherto 'ill-explored', in critical terms. Davie manages to convey an impression of the deep structuring of 'Lake Superior', without analysing it in any detail, and glosses the biographical and geological information in the poem, discriminating between the 'literary sources' and their representations in the poem: for this we should be grateful.

Davie provides many glosses on the references to the explorers in the poem: Radisson, Marquette, Joliet, Schoolcraft. Indeed, these are crucial to the structure of the poem, as their spirit was crucial to its composition. The trip through which the poem was conceived was, for Niedecker, an exploration, and the fruition of a long interest in the early pioneers and Indian tribes, and a recent reading-up of geology. In very real terms the sensation of discovery recurs throughout the poem. Not unlike the pioneers himself in this respect, Davie responds to his discoveries with enthusiasm, which he sometimes combines with distortion of information. These notes are offered as an attempt at more accurate cartography of the areas where I find him misleading.

Davie is wrong in suggesting that Indians figure in the poem 'nowhere at all, except as the savages who tore out poor Radisson's fingernails' (poor is Davie's interpretation). They are the builders of 'The long/canoes', they are the people who 'birchbark floated' Marquette's remains 'to the straits'-both actions carefully placed by the poet in a context of respect for natural value, for 'every part of every living thing'. They also figure directly in the Schoolcraft section:

Sea-roaring caverns-
Chippewas threw deermeat
to the savage maws
'Voyageurs crossed themselves
tossed a twist of tobacco in'

Here, the action of the Chippewas is shown as more direct, dynamic and logical than the inconsequential formal gestures of the (frenchified) voyageurs: compare 'threw deermeat' to 'tossed a twist of tobacco', and compare the vigorous rhythm of the first three lines (caverns and Chippewas matched in their environment) with the twittering ('prissiness', to use a word Davie uses of Schoolcraft) of the last two. To ignore such reference, and such deliberate structuring, is to be insensitive to a dimension of the poem-and a dimension of Niedecker's method. It is worth noting in this connection that she had researched the Indian history of Wisconsin nearly thirty years earlier on a Federal Writers Project, and had written with anger to Zukofsky of the whites who massacred Indians at Black Hawk Island. (I am indebted to Lisa Pater Faranda for this information.) And on the subject of Indian land treaties, her earlier poem is unequivocal: 'Black Hawk held: In reason/land cannot be sold . . .' (from 'New Goose', 1946).

Similarly, Davie over-stresses a point when he says 'the only time-spans that interest her are those of geological time, or. . . of etymology'. She is concerned with such long scales, obviously, but time and again we are brought back to the shorter spans of 'living things'. Partly, as he suggests, to contrast the two extremes. But overall, surely, the intention is to stress the kinship, which recurs throughout, of land and life: not to distance animal and vegetable history from geology, but to enable the one to partake of the other. Thus 'In blood the minerals/of the rock' and 'the leaf beside it/once was stone' and 'his bones of such is coral' and 'in rocks and freighters'-and even the pun on 'ribs' in 'The long/canoes'-phrases such as these are working to fuse elements of the-poetic and biological-cycle, not to make them more disparate.

Davie misses one such reference-crucial, in my opinion-through his preference for the earlier Fulcrum Press printing of the poem, in North Central (1968). This confuses the fifth and sixth sections of the poem by transposing the last line of section five, to become the first line of section six. The later printing (in My Life By Water: Collected Poems 1936-1968 [Fulcrum, 1970]) corrects the error:

Through all this granite land
The sign of the cross

Beauty: impurities in the rock

To transpose this third line down to the next section disturbs the typographic sense, adds nothing to the Marquette poem, and leaves a rather flat two-liner behind it. In its rightful place, the section becomes animate, and a real comment is made on the imposition of European culture on American landscape-a trenchant comment, for someone who isn't concerned with human timespans!

'Lake Superior' is, as Davie implied, a subtle vehicle for poetry: word-placement, sound pattern, aural and intellectual echoes all carry their information, and when read caringly they yield rich images-they may not do so when read lazily or with prejudice. The 'ecological' concern of the poem is current and vital. If Niedecker addresses her audience in a quiet, concise tone, rather than a more overtly politically disputative one, she is the more in keeping with her subject for doing so. The poem is concise, accurate, and moving-our responsibility is to read the map right, and not to distort the record found there.

This item is taken from PN Review 29, Volume 9 Number 3, January - February 1983.

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