The Spike or Victoria College Review 1938
Of the contributions submitted, I have no hesitation in awarding first place to one of those signed "a"; but I'm by no means equally sure which of them is best. None of them—and there are a good many— is either ridiculous or wholly banal; some are very slight, several begin well and end rather feebly, and in general he is much more successful with echoes of other poetry than when once or twice he tries to be modern and clever. The choice seems to lie between "Jean," "Aphrodite," and "Green Avon." The first two are love poems; a third love poem, addressed to "Mona," seems less spontaneous, perhaps because it recalls Masefield, perhaps for reasons connected with the last line. "Aphrodite" seems too dilatory in reaching the apparent objective to be a "spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion," and it s very reminiscent of de la Mare. "Green Avon" also recalls de la Mare, and Meredith too, but on the whole I like it best. I also liked "Late Afternoon," and the beginning parts of three others: "Soft Flames," "Eternity," and "Tapestry," though one word dragged in for rhyme's sake brings the vision of a story by Kenneth Grahame, the fantasy of the coyly spinsterish dragon, pirouetting on her hind legs with a chase-me look.
In the past "Spike" has published some excellent poetry and the general level of merit has been a fairly high one. In my opinion, very few of this year's contributions reach that level. This view is not inconsistent with thinking that almost all the writers deserve some measure of praise and encouragement. The chief cause of failure seems to me to be soaring ambition. (By the way, one aspirant "soars" downward. An even more difficult achievement than Montgomery's stream "meandering level with its fount.") The rhythms of free verse require a more disciplined ear and a surer taste than do traditional settings; and the lure of the startling epithet is apt to lead the novice to disaster. Most of the would-be modern contributors have here and there a telling juxtaposition or a happy line:"Know the faint flesh at strife with the bladed bone," "and pushed the blanket of his flesh away," "in quivering equipoise," "drumming the macabre timber," even "makes the past one bilious blur," are isolated instances. But on the whole the desperate and so rarely successful chase after the striking word justifies Edmund Spenser:
Heapes of huge word upheaved hideously
Have marred the face of goodly poesy.
I think "Paradox" may be worth printing; it contains a thought, and the last line is good. Also "Vignettes"—amusing in parts. Victor Hugo said that a good rhyme occasionally may suggest a bright idea: but he uses the method very sparingly. "City Night" has promise, but its lush preciosity badly needs the knife (not the one that has been used to stab the Epstein statue of C.M.L.). "Newcomer" is dignified and intelligent, but typical of such a large mass of New Zealand verse, technically meritorious, not in the least ridiculous, and all the time hovering on the borderland of tripe. One might also mention another characteristic of this type of verse: the almost invariable dogging of the noun by the epithet. In university students, might this be due to the influence of Ovid? The Stephen Spenderish, "Poem for a Friend," has its gleams, and something of a Japanese flavour; but oh those technical words! And a last word for the most determined optimist among all pessimistic and death-seeking poet-philosophers, who proposes to be cremated, and page 50 then to be eaten of worms. No, in the present state of thanatochemistry one can't have it both ways.
Thank you for the pleasure, and, now and then only, the amusement of perusing these verses.
—G. W. von Zedlitz.