Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 5. 1969.
Hail to Thee, Blithe Spirit
Hail to Thee, Blithe Spirit
Having read Trevor James' statement of intent as Literary Editor in the first issue of Salient 69, and having been more than a litle bemused by the wandering ways of his expose of his critical articles of faith, I'd like to make a few points in reply to this arbiter of student literary excursions and amusements who seems to have enjoyed a rather rapid rise from nothingness to being, in which blessed state he has all-too-soon discovered the perils of occupying a veritable Hot Editorial Seat.
He starts off on what might be termed "the defensive". He is, he says, either going to set dizzily-high standards and preside over a vacuum-like memorial to good literary taste, or he's going to "humble" himself and suffer in the proverbial silence as he sanctions the printing of what, O bleeding heart, he knows deep down to be a load of poetic rubbish. BUT—he "will not feel bound to publish' the aforementioned trash. Well look, Trevor, can see any militant pseudo-poets on campus who've already sworn to hang your scalp from their collective bedpost if you reject their puerile outpourings of over-emotion and low-grade intellectualisation? I always thought the problem at Vic, was that students did write, but were too hesitant, self-conscious and shyly-coy to pluck up the guts to commit themselves to an appearance in the centre pages, Trevor. Or do you suffer from a case of galloping paranoia.
He mentions the possibility of getting suitable material from "other sources' if students "don't want to write". Should be no difficulty there, I'd say. And, anyway, just because Salient is a student newspaper, and a pretty good one at that, all things considered, is it necessary to turn all exclusive and keep the non-students out? If you're deluged with mail—bags full of fine student writing, Trevor, sure—but your job is to present a centre-page spread of original, creative poetry and prose, among other things—so does it matter too much whether or not it happens to be written by students, non-students, ex-students, literary grandfathers or just plain good writers who don't happen to have picked up English Honours along their artistic road?
"I think of the literary role of Salient as being a missionary endeavour". Okay. Go out into the steaming jungle of the Caf, and rouse the dormant student artist-types. Open your heart and your pages to them—but don't begin by putting them down, by virtually discounting their worth from the outset. Missionaries tread on treacherous ground these days, all the same—the hell fire-and-brimstone boys don't go down as well, or at least on such a scale, as they used to. Maybe because there's a feeling abroad that carriers-of-the-light need to be pretty closely examined for various taints of the soul before anyone is prepared to bow down before, or to flock- behind them.
Now, if the name Trevor James meant anything to people, it might de different. Unfortunately it doesn't mean anything to me, with a finger fairly well on the young Kiwi literary pulse, and after some investigation I've found it doesn't mean anything to a few others in the same position. Trevor James, I hear, is an academic —and thank God most creative writers know by now that their special gifts have never been very well understood by the purely academic breed of critic or would-be herd-driver. The two spirits—academic and creative— are one hell of a long way apart. It might he best put thus—One dissects, the Other bleeds. What the dissector needs to admit is that, without the bleeder, he'd be looking for a pastime which gave more satisfaction (nasty or otherwise) than one which would of necessity be purely notional. And, to touch on that by-now-famous Sonnet of yours, Trevor, as David Harcourt says, "pretty ordinary" —smacking of "My First Poem" more than anything else.
The comments Trevor makes on Art and artists aren't especially well-phrased or thought-out, but because they're not likely to ever attain to he heights of sacred wisdom, I'll pass them by, while observing that "Art" is a serious activity or pursuit, and tha as such it may be very genuinely revered or at least, treated in no light fashion. The pseudo-ish approach is pretty easily detected by anyone with any intelligence and rightly scorned for what it is. I would saw in passing, that anyone aspiring to the title of "poet" who goes on writing for writing's sake without coming to grins with the basic issues, issues like love, death, man's soul, the purpose of life, morality and so on, is in fart a pseudo-poet. Perhaps though, like some of the "Private Eye" crew, there are quite a few people around who, perhaps knowing that they themselves haven't made it in their own terms, delight in demolishing the oft-deserved aura of personal success which surrounds certain others, delight in dismissing these figures as "psudeds", and engaging in the quest for said pseuds with the questionable fervour of the witch-hunt.
What Paul's advice to Timothy has to do with literary matters, I quite honestly fail to see. Perhaps an occasion to display one's biblical erudition? The position of "Teacher" in the particular area of literature-in-the-making is not one which is easily earned—certainly not by a process of selection somewhat akin to he old drawing-of-straws or names-from-a-hat tricks. The Literary Editor of Salient, I woud submit, should, when he feels the occasion warrants it, give out with an opinion—and not with what he might fancy as a for-all-time judgment. And if, Trevor you ever do get around to passing for publication the original, creative works of poetry and prose one naturally expects you to, I sincerely hope each one of said works will not be accompanied by a line-for-line academic or reactive criticism or judgment. Because, as you will no doubt be aware, a great number of people, students and otherwise, U and non-U, read Salient, and maybe some of them would appreciate being left alone to form their own frail opinions without benefit of an outraged, exemplary, whip-cracking God hovering over their shoulders.
"Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience"— you've set yourself up as someone to indeed be reckoned with, Trevor. Anyone, like myself, who might once have thought of throwing his works upon your tender mercies is obviously going to think bloody hard before he does so now. In other words, you've put US off, mate, and by US I mean everyone around here who puts pen to paper with the absurd idea that he might have something new to say, and be able to say it reasonably well. Yes, Trevor, U and non-U, we're all in the same boat. What about "humbling" yourself a little, climbing down off that selferected pedestal, and correcting what may very well be false first impressions?