The Spike or Victoria College Review 1936
Dr. J. C. Beaglehole has once again accepted the task of scanning the pages of contributions as he used to scan them during his Editorship of Spikes in days gone by. His remarks are printed here in full for the delectation of the authors and poets concerned, and Spike here takes the opportunity of thanking him for the work so willingly undertaken.
I cannot honestly say that in my opinion the contributions which I have had to judge have reached a very high average level. But perhaps I am becoming old and disillusioned; and perhaps again to ask one who edited so many numbers of Spike in the past to judge Spike in the present is hardly fair to the present. In those days, one thinks, in the early 'twenties, neither before nor after, was the true glory of the pen! Before that they were stuck in the clay (Old and a Patch it might be); and after came all these young fellows! However I was not requested to exalt my own generation, and I must get to my job.
Of the present sheaf of contributions I think the prose is better than the verse. The verse, however, has a sociological interest of its own—it is interesting, that is, to note how the same subjects always take the young poet by the throat, and bring out his somewhat choked utterance—particularly God, and Fate, and disgust with humanity, and immortality, and unrequited love. Emotions about these things are common to us all, and as verse is fairly easy to write—up to a point—every editor gets his fill of them. But after Donne and Milton and Keats and Tennyson and T. S. Eliot it is rather hard to say anything particularly new and striking about any of them. So we are liable to get a sort of blundering sincerity, and though you can't write great, or even moderately good, poetry, without that quality, sincerity on its own is not enough. One longs for a bit of accomplished mockery, such as D. J. Donald used to give us, and finds peculiarly satisfactory the only parodies sent in this year, the Swinburnian Medusa and the new version of "All Things Bright and Beautiful."
It is much harder on the other hand to write passable prose than passable verse; the prose-writer has got to stand or fall on his merits, without the help of the jingle of rhyme or the hypnotic effect of chopped-up lines and old poetical associations. For this reason I have no hesitation in placing first the short story Footsteps. This is quite remarkably good, I think; the writer of this has a real sense of style, a real sense of words, of the value of simplicity and evenness of statement for some purposes, and a real idea of rhythm. The child's attitude too, it seems to me, is very truly and closely observed. I hope the author will keep on writing. One point—can you validly talk of "the glory" of a bird's song? There is nothing else quite as good as this, though I also liked very much, in parts, The Backbone. The writer of this sketch has some capacity for observation, and gets conversation down well; he is also felicitous with his names, both for cows and farm-hands—e.g. "Stan" is the perfect name for the purpose. He too has a talent worth cultivating, and this comic-observational vein is a very refreshing one. I put this contribution second. Of the other pieces of prose, Sea Fire has good description. I admire the purpose of the Joie de Vivre piece, but find it a bit heavy—and doubt the historical truth of the last part of the penultimate paragraph. The New Firm has some power and ability to handle words—quite considerable ability, in fact—but as a play it seems to me to be too short to get its proper effect—it is telescoped, foreshortened, and the motives of all the characters hardly seem adequately exposed.
About the verse it is difficult to know what to say. Even as conventional verse most of it hasn't been worked over enough, and good lines are linked with very lame and crippled companions. On the other hand, most of the verse in the freer forms also has some difficulty in justifying itself—or, if it justifies itself, makes a bad break somewhere. Generally speaking, the stricter the form with young poets, the betterpage break page break
S. P. Andrew.
Victoria University College Students' Association Executive, 1936.
Back Row: S. M Saunders, J. Stock, B.A., R. W. Edgley, P. M. P. Edwards, B.A., E. Blacker, G. C. Broad, F. D. Christensen.
Front Row: D. R. Currie (Hon. Sec). J. C. White LL.B. (Vice-Pres.), H. R. C. Wild, LL.M. (Pres.), N. M. McLaren (Vice-Pres.), E. G. Budge, M.A. (Hon. Treas.).
the verse. E.g. the—alas!—deplorably flippant triolet "His love for her was going to be" is a much better bit of verse than the superrealist (is it?) Libretto about the coolly writhing thighs of Fanny Brawne, unhappy girl. I don't say that the Libretto writer hasn't more real poetic sensibility than most of the others, all the same, and more originality—see Carte Blanche, Selene (what are latent "limbs?") and Medea (but where does the wallpaper come in?). I like those three things and the triolet; I like also most (but not exclusively) Extinction, Heresy, some lines of Beatrice, some lines of Rain, the first, very good, line of Nocturne, and the fragmentary Wireless Masts. On the whole. Medea and Extinction seem to me to have most real poetic content, and I bracket them next to the two prose pieces—though it is of course impossible to make poetry and prose compete; with Wireless Masts coming very close to them; so close indeed as to make hardly any difference.
By now I have outraged everybody of literary sensibility; I have raised to the highest point of indignation all connoisseurs of the written word; I have damned myself utterly and finally. I have left many things, of necessity, unmentioned, both prose and verse; and for that I apologise—but even good critics can't criticise everything. Otherwise I am unrepentant, and retire with a pleasing sense of having done my duty.