The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, 1939
Prose and Verse
Prose and Verse
A large number of entries were received this year—as many of twenty-five from a single competitor. Three handed in about sixty between them! As most of them were uniformly mediocre in quality—too good not to read right through and too bad to excite—I found them a bit boring to read and very difficult to judge.
The prose on the whole was disappointing. The winning piece, "Half-Caste," was the only one that at all satisfactorily met requirements—ability to write clearly and cogently, some originality of idea and expression, and refusal of the writer to kid himself, i.e.to trick himself into feelings and attitudes that were not his own. The writer of "Half-Caste" aimed at 100 and, I think, has hit it. Hot developed enough to stir one deeply it depends for its success on the effectiveness with which the frying-pan-fire point is made. In my opinion that is well made, without undue sentimentality or exaggeration. The tone is pretty well right.
The write of "The Fateful Twenty-fifth of August" does not avoid kidding himself. The result is that he must have felt rather better after writing it than anyone in his situation has a right to feel. Apart from some errors in composition and grammar, its faults are the stereotyped language and artificially dialectical manner.
I have a deeply rooted dislike of Saxon Sagas of the romantic past like "You Will Remember," which seem to me too unreal to be worth much attention, but I had to recognise in this one some efficient writing. In its conventional way it is a workmanlike effort.
"The Relation of Science to Politics" moves flat-footedly. Though it raises some important points in an interesting way, failure to elaborate them makes it rather a series of dogmatic, inadequately substantiated generalisations than a reasoned exposition.
Too many of the poets appear to differ from the Faith Healer of Deal in not disliking "what they fancy they feel." One of the more prolific (he submitted 21 poems) is a habit-hardened romantic whom it would now probably be impossible to convince that "gardens of pale fragrance and cool shadow," etc., interminable, have no existence outside romantic minds, The emotional meanings of such words have indeed been so altered by over-use in poems of spurious sentiment that they cloud instead of clarifying page 31 the objects they are intended to picture. When a poem (another one), who begins, "God pity them, the dark of sight, who never looked upon a tree," goes on to assert:
"I have within my mind a star,
Of beauty burned upon my sight:
Dim bluebells in the twilit woods
The boisterous gorse blooms' gold delight
The skylark in the cloudless blue...
we may agree that the star is within his mind all right but suspect that he has never really looked upon a tree either, or, more likely, has failed to record what he saw and felt when he did. Under the dominance of these terms many competitors have written verse that has an atmosphere of remoteness and response, and the rhythms are too flabby to express feeling strongly.
In "The Waste Land," D. M. S. has almost managed to shake himself free from trite "poetic" words and cloying rhythms and written a satisfying poem. The verse form he has chosen has helped him to define the emotion with some firmness and certainty. This does not mean that there are not serious flaws in the poem. There are, for instance: a few weak rhymes—weak in idea as well as sound—and one or two flacid phrases like "war and lust." Further some of its integrity is sacrificed in the optimism, long-term though it is, of the last stanza. But its Audenesque movement and vigour are refreshing.
"Like Purple Flowers on a Corpse," also by D. M. S., is not nearly so good. Its merits are its coherence, its concern with real and vital things, its, occasional felicity of expression; its faults, some doubtful figures (e.g."... avalanche that cataracts to national death"), but mainly a forced dragging movement.
I like the rhythmic strength and tautness of "The Concrete Man," which seems to me to express the necessary sense of solidity and immovability very well. The effect is got with a commendable economy.
"In Secessu" reveals a considerable amount of poetic ability. Its author has, however spoilt it by melodramatising a little moment in the usual way. Something of the flatness of Charlotte Bronte's "Schoolteacher's Monologue" would better express the misery of the experience here.
I thought "The Shrinking Valiant" was the most successful of the dozen and a half pieces submitter by K.M.M. He (or she) uses orthodox poetic forms with much skill; her poems, in fact, have fewer technical blemishes than those of any other competitor, but she lapses too often into sentimentality and rarely manages to escape being hackneyed in her choice of themes and in her treatment of them.
The general standard of the verse submitted was higher than of the prose. What is the reason for the absence, noticeable in "Spike" for the last few years, of really good prose?
—W. J. Scott.page 32 page break