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This item is taken from PN Review 21, Volume 8 Number 1, September - October 1981.

Letters - Michael Horovitz, Alan Young, Colin Meir, S. G. Graham
Sir: In his putative review of my Growing Up collection (PNR 18), Alan Young introduces his quotation from the title sequence with the false impression that it's one 'ending with the growing-up ambition

all I seek
as I follow the sun
is to break
to that peace of
no mind, no beginning.'

Let me point out that this is not only from the middle-no- where near the ending-of the sequence; but also that it's from the middle only of a phrase in one section of it.

The five-line cutting here exhibited as my 'ambition' means as little as any atrophied quotation can-any 19 words from 'Fern Hill', say, irrespective of their surrounding syntax. If I supply the two preceding lines

and now the light years
seem frozen over

-and mention that the full stop after 'no beginning' was your interpolation, it may begin to make sense, or anyway come clearer.

On the page as published by Allison & Busby, there follows a double space, and then

for some
the universe is a new flower

and closing

-and opening

(But the image proceeds to be further complicated with a cautionary note from Marcuse: 'A flower has no power-only we, who look after it'. . .)

You'll gather that this, like much of my writing (& like the continuing natural growth of wild flowers) is part of a still longer unfinished sentence. Yet (like any stream that's not dried up) one that nonetheless indicates its own punctuations-perhaps more subtly than is admitted by most linear prose. The aspiration to getting back or cutting through to a childlike, spontaneous stance calls for more, not less, intelligence and craftsmanship-if only to outwit over-received, played out notions of mind and beginning.

Young accuses me of getting along without critical faculties: would he merrily countenance my aborting a fractionally grown excerpt only, from the pregnant middle of one of his sentences? If getting along with these faculties means what he's done-interfering with and misrepresenting the text allegedly under discussion-I'm glad to admit that I've indeed tried to do without them throughout my linguistic and literary life. If on the other hand it could mean again what the good Dr Johnson commended, to 'see the object steady and see it whole', then I can only wish you'd reserve your reviewing briefs for real critics possessed of such perceptual capacity.

Instead you indulge the hypotheses of Alan Young: 'Some of the "Jazz Poems" may come through better in performance than they do in print, but only, I should think, if critical faculties are completely suspended'. Well, I'm not,pace Alan Young's assump- tion, exclusively a 'performing poet', though I often produce what may be termed 'open form' or 'vers libre' scores which can be arti- culated and heard in many ways. I should have thought, however, that the time to begin to use (or lose) one's mind in assessing or (dare I say!) enjoying a live performance would be when it's actually taken place, and not 'in the mind' thus set on your august columns, so lamentably corrupted by pseudo-critical prejudice. Till Mr Young and his ilk can conceive of new beginnings, let him at least be restrained from stopping those of us who do.
Bisley, Glos.

Alan Young comments:
1. I did not assert that the lines quoted from Growing Up were the final lines of the poem or of any part of it. Mr Horovitz 'aborts a fractionally grown excerpt only' from one of my sentences, in spite of his stated guidelines for critics. In my view, the lines quoted clearly express Mr Horovitz's ultimate (i.e. final, end) 'growing-up ambition' to find again the innocence and visionary capacity which, he believes, he possessed as a child. Alas for us all, he now believes that he has achieved this ambition.

2. Inconsistent again, Mr Horovitz gives himself exclusive permission to cut and quote bits from his allegedly endless and seamless poem. Readers may judge how much relevant sense his explication makes.

3. I did not write that Mr Horovitz is merely a performance poet. On the other hand, having witnessed several manifestations by performance poets (including Mr Horovitz) it is not too hard for me to imagine how his 'Jazz Poems' come over in performance by him. I should not wish to be in the audience.


Sir: Since two thirds of the section of my essay on R. S. Thomas which refers to his later poetry (British Poetry since 1970 pp. 5-13) deal directly with the poet's use of language, I must conclude from Marjorie Perloff's remarks (PNR 19) that she has merely read my last sentence. But if she had read R. S. Thomas she would nonetheless have understood that my reference to the moments of faith and vision in his poetry as being 'necessarily infrequent' has very precisely to do both with the particular kind of religious quest the work reveals and with the way it reveals it.
School of Language and Literature
Ulster Polytechnic, Newtonabbey, Co. Antrim


Sir: I wonder whether some of your other readers experience the same sort of unease I do when I go through the review pages of PN Review, and when I read the essay-reviews in the body of the magazine? It is difficult to describe the unease precisely: let me try to do so by analogy. When the Times Literary Supplement began to include signed reviews, I was initially glad. It was good to know whether the reviewer of a book by a Marxist was him- self a reactionary; or if a book by a structuralist was being deconstructed by a masked Dr Scruton. However, my initial pleasure in connection with the TLS has faded. Why is this? Because I believe-and I have tested this belief by reading back issues from Arthur Crook's last years as editor-that the standard of reviewing in that paper has declined. Rather, let me say that there is no longer a clear standard at all. One week we may find two or three poets identified as 'fine' or 'major' or 'forceful'; another week a genuinely fine, major and forceful poet is mugged. Then along comes a first-rate review . . .

I can only conclude that with the unsigned reviews the editor or his poetry lieutenant must have rigorously trained and streamlined the reviewing team. They spoke with different voices but with the same acerb seriousness and one could in a curious way trust them. There was (or seemed to be) a line, an angle, a perspective. One could make allowances for this in judging whether one would pursue a poet beyond the review.

When the critic signs his review, the editor is no longer held responsible for what is said. And though-given the variety of work published-it would be savage of us to demand that the editor share the judgement of all his reviewers, it would not be too much to ask that he check his own judgement against those resounding verdicts such as 'major' and 'promising'- words which sell books and affect the way an author is received. His reviewers should not necessarily share a standpoint but they should share a seriousness of outlook and a commitment to proper assessment and judgement. Otherwise, a journal such as the TLS is like a street-market in which one must learn which stall-holder to trust and which to distrust.

It seems to me that, time after time, the review pages of PNR vacillate between the greatest seriousness and rigour and what one can only call 'promotionalism' and 'impressionism'. I feel that the reviews that appear in the 'anthologies' and 'lives and letters' sections are almost always, on the whole, better than those in the 'poetry' pages. The team writing about the prose and anthology titles seems to me smaller and more consistent in outlook, even in bias, while the reviewers of new poetry vary between the descriptive and informed, the judicious and informed, the judicious and uninformed, and the injudicious and uninformed. Style can conceal a great deal, and one is in the end reduced to judging some of the reviews-or the books they review -by the quality of the quotations embedded in the prose text.

Might I venture to suggest that the reviewing of new poetry be assigned on a regular basis to a smaller team of reviewers and that you seek not so much to be comprehensive in your coverage as discriminating in the books you assign? Judging from recent issues, I would like to see included in your team Lawrence Sail, John Pilling, John Clarke, Dennis Keene, Alan Young, Una Allis, C. J. Fox, John Lyons and . . . a few others. Would it be outlandish to suggest that, when the team is right, you begin to practise anonymous reviewing? Perhaps that would be going too far! I'm too old to be an optimist!

Obviously a magazine such as PN Review is always looking out for new critics. You would serve them-and your readers-even better than you already do if you were to practise greater stringency with them. The same goes for other journals, too.
Jersey, C. I.

This item is taken from PN Review 21, Volume 8 Number 1, September - October 1981.

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