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This article is taken from PN Review 3, Volume 4 Number 3, April - June 1978.

Answering 'Letter from an Editor' Richard Swigg

Until I read Donald Davie's 'Letter from an Editor' (PNR 2) I had not realized what fixity of opinions could be ascribed to me (and so readily) on the basis of so little. [See 'Descending to the Commonplace', PNR 2.] He sees me as one who seeks a tidier world of poetry than is possible; who probably asks (with Leavis?) that poetry should save our souls or provide an alternative to the 'deathly' in our civilization; and who, besides implying that no British writing since the war 'deserves gratitude and respect', believes that Lawrence has said the last word on poetry. It would take me too long to supplant each of these assumptions with my real, untravestied beliefs, but I must say I find it ironic that a writer like Davie who can assert the value of keeping options open is also so ready to tidy me away into some impossibly rigid, pre-1945 obsoleteness of his own imagining. That, however, is not my central disagreement. Let me quarrel a little more seriously with this:


. . . it could be argued that, since life-in-death is what British existence has characteristically been since 1945, Larkin's masterly depiction and recommendation of it-Swigg doesn't deny the mastery-deserve all the plaudits they have earned. Larkin is genuinely the 'voice of his age'; and Swigg doesn't deny that.


But Swigg, in denying that very thing, realizes that he has laboured in vain-at least as far as ...


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