The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, 1939
Passing judgment in any competition is not an casy lask, and the "Spike" literary and photographic competitions were no exception. With this in view "Spike" wishes to thank the judges for the manner in which they have performed their duties and for their helpful comments and criticisms are given below.
The judges spent a very enjoyable though strenuous evening judging these prints which show a marked advance on previous exhibits. Some of the prints show a high standard of poetic imagination and ability to use the "Language of Pictures" as well as good photographic technique. We may look forward to the time when these workers will be producing pictures of salon quality.
Our method in judging was to first go through the lot and put aside those which were definitely out of the highest class. This left about a dozen that merited careful study and judgment, and gradually we selected in the following order those which seemed to us the best, taking note of all those points that go to the making of a picture.
First award, "Students." This is an excellent study of what is rather a difficult subject. To bring two figures into a composition and give each full value without setting up a competition between them is no easy matter. It has been done here exceedingly well. The picture is full of interest and ful of beautiful tone and rich quality in both lights and darks. All the material used to make the picture is Harmonious and supports the main theme. The mounting is good and the titling clear being assertive. There is no fault to find with the whole ensemble.
Second award, "Old Timer." This is a delightful scene well rendered. Its rich, if somewhat dark tones help to suggest the romance of the scene which is full of interest and contains no jarring note. Everything is well placed and nothing is superfluous. The mounting and titling are excellent. The head of the figure is rather lost against the dark tone behind and would perhaps have been better seen without the cap while the dog evidently resents the whole proceeding. Through such small misfortunes does a picture come to be placed second.
Third award, "Sydenham Potteries." Here is a first prize picture spoiled by its mounting and titling. The tones of inner and outer mount should be reversed. A warm toned print should be on a cream inner mount or better still one broad cream mount with a simple cut-out and possible a line round it. The title is much too big for this small print and overwhelms it, attracting attention first instead of last. The print is a delightful rendering of unpromising material and we longed to place it over so high, but, shades of D.O Hill! what could we do with a mount like that?
Very highly commended, "Excursion." This is well composed and photographed and the print has a pleasant softness and atmosphere. Perhaps the white circle on the left would be better out of the picture, while the headless coat on the right is also unfortunate. But what spoils the picture is the dreadful blank band round it. Very rarely will a photograph stand anything darker than a lead pencil will give around it. The picture is the thing, the mount is there to concentrate the attention on the picture. It must never attraction of itself.page 30
Highly commended, "Deep in the Forest." A beautiful scene and delightful texture in the print. Unfortunately the brometching has gone a little too far on the upper portion of the dark tree trunk so that the light in the middle distance seems to come forward across the tree. A little doping would rectify this, says J.W.J.! Another black band and badly cut mount helped to put this picture out of the higher places. I don't know what we would have done if these mistakes had not been made.
Commended, "Nightfall." The level lines and soft atmospheric tones all help to convey the feeling of evening. A gentle and dreamy feeling fills the picture, which alas the sharp and aggressive lettering of the title does its best to destroy. The stern of the boat is just a little too vertically under the dark headland and its artificial definition with a pencil is therefore the more undesirable.
A number of other prints show imagination, poetic and emotional feeling without which a picture is as "sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal," but they fail in one way or another such as those already mentioned faults, or in some other way. For instance let us consider "Decline and Decay." This has splendid "picture language" in it, but where does the bright light on the water come from? The sky has a half circle of lighter tone looks like a fault in development, otherwise it is a flat grey. A slightly hazy moon would do the trick and could be printed in. But for this weakness the picture would have scored highly. And so with several others, but be not dismayed; who would want to make picture if it was easy?
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