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A Popular Vision: The Arts and the Left in New Zealand 1930-1950

An Independent, Critical Journal

An Independent, Critical Journal

The purpose of the paper was 'to encourage free expression of opinion on any subject of social importance'.16 The epithet which appeared beneath its title— 'Tomorrow is a satire on today, and shows its weakness'—is perhaps less descriptive of Tomorrows intention than other tides initially considered: "Tree Comment", "The Critic", and more facetiously "The Wasp", "The Microbe" and the rest'.17 The title itself, however, suggests that the paper had a mission to fulfill, and much of its content carried an earnest and prophetic tone. Tomorrow was a journal of serious, critical comment on current issues, ranging from broadcasting and education to farming and science but with a primary focus on politics, both international and national, and political economics. It carried lengthy articles on the major international political events of the decade, much more informative and analytical than the news that appeared in the daily newspapers. Its principal writers on international affairs were Bruce Souter, W. N. Pharazyn, who wrote a regular column on 'New Zealand and the World Today', and J. S. Reid on Asian politics, along with overseas contributors who included James Bertram in China, and Australian literary critic Nettie Palmer page 33 whose 'Australian Notebook' was a regular feature between July 1937 and May 1939. On the domestic front Tomorrow maintained a critical commentary on the progress of the Labour government. One of its more influential features was the chatty 'News and Views' column put together by Sutch, Innes and Finlay, which provided a running commentary on developments in Labour government policy and the daily goings-on of Parliament. Debate over the Labour government's commitment to socialism underlay much of the magazine's discussion of political economics, in which Sutch, Pharazyn and Innes were major contributors, while the Douglas Social Credit movement was also a major topic of interest in the early years-Rhodes' regular column made up by far the most significant part of the cultural content of Tomorrow, but the paper also contained items on cultural subjects from a variety of other sources. There was at least one book review in every issue, and a regular film column ('Sound Films and Silly Ones' by 'Observing Ernest') in the second half of 1935. Occasionally material was reprinted from progressive overseas journals, and articles on cultural subjects were also contributed by some of the paper's international correspondents. These included Freda and Eric Cook in London, and Ian Milner, who wrote as 'A Rhodes Scholar in Russia' while en route to Oxford to take up a Rhodes scholarship in 1934, sent back several articles from England, and contributed a regular 'American Newsletter' between December 1937 and August 1939, while doing post-graduate study in America.

Tomorrow was primarily a journal of political comment, but it also played, by circumstance rather than by design, an important role as a publisher of New Zealand literature. (It printed little literary material from overseas, an exception being several poems on Spain in 1937 and 1938.) Although it advanced no literary manifesto, its importance as an oudet for new writing in the 1930s has been hugely overshadowed by the slighter, shorter-lived Phoenix, which has given its name to a literary generation and been accorded a place in literary history out of proportion to the briefness of its life and, almost certainly, the size of its readership. In the pages of Tomorrow can be found work by most of the major writers of this period, among them Allen Curnow, R.A.K. Mason, Frank Sargeson, Robin Hyde, Charles Brasch, A.R.D. Fairburn, Denis Glover, M.H. Holcroft, Roderick Finlayson, Ian Milner and Anton Vogt. Glover and Fairburn were the most prolific literary contributors, although light, satirical verses rather than 'serious' poetry made up the bulk of their contributions. The two filled Tomorrows pages with dozens of squibs, of which the following, from Glover, is one of the better examples:

In Edward Albert Homework Hawks
a martyr we can boast:
page 34 he'll read Tomorrow walking home,
and walk into a post.18

Glover also published several satirical sketches in the magazine. Fairburn, Rhodes remarks, 'used to send down stuff by the barrel-load'.19 The most significant role Tomorrow performed as a literary patron, however, was in publishing the stories of Frank Sargeson, which appeared regularly from September 1935. Sargeson later acknowledged the importance of Tomorrow in his autobiographical work More Than Enough.

Whether it was chance or influence or both I do not know, but about the time of my meeting with Fairburn I saw a copy of Tomorrow for the first time, and almost immediately wrote something which I could very surely recognise as quite different from anything I had written previously . . .20

It was, Sargeson wrote, the tone of Tomorrow and especially the quality and the 'readiness and fluency' of A.R.D. Fairburn's writing in its pages which showed him that 'there need not necessarily be an impossible gap between the quality of writing readily found in journals published in England and the poor substitute one took for granted in one's own country', and which moved him in the direction of the laconic, condensed narrative style which became his (and to many critics New Zealand's) characteristic voice. It also gave him an audience to write for.21

Tomorrow also printed work by many lesser-known and aspiring writers, work which was of varying quality. Says Rhodes: 'We received a lot of material, a lot of it not very good.'22 Given the magazine's political orientation, it is perhaps surprising that only a small proportion of this material could be described as explicitly political writing, although much of it did, nevertheless, reflect the pressing social, political and cultural concerns of the time. Short, satirical verses of the kind churned out by Fairburn and Glover made up approximately a third of the poetry, but the few 'real' poems by Curnow and Glover in this period which took a political theme also appeared in Tomorrow, such as Curnow's 'Unemployed' and Glover's '"Scab-Loaded!"', 'These Are The Men', 'War Over ' Spain' and 'Bringing It Home' (the latter about the prospect of fascism in New Zealand).23 Two contributions by Ian Milner, 'Strike in San Francisco, July, 1934' and 'To any Socialist', also number among the few notable examples of political writing in Tomorrow.24 A larger proportion of the poems were, like many of Glover and Fairburn's contributions, condemnations of 'bourgeois' culture, which described or satirised the daily manifestations of materialism, individualism and social pretence. Predictably, war was strongly represented as a literary subject, particularly towards the end of publication. Of the literary prose in Tomorrow, it was the consciously political pieces which were on the whole the least successful in literary terms—they tended to take the form of short descriptive page 35 sketches of working class life and the hardships of the depression, or crude juxtapositions of 'upper class' and working class life and values.

Despite some degree of political content, the literary material published in Tomorrow was selected on the criterion of literary quality, not political virtue. The paper did not assume a deliberate role of fostering a left-wing, nor a distinctively 'New Zealand', literature. Nor did it actively solicit material. It became a de facto home for New Zealand writing simply because in Tomorrow writers 'found they had a place to publish',25

There were very few journals at this time publishing original literary material. C. A. Marris's Art in New Zealand, founded in 1928, was a dull, conservative quarterly which, commented Rhodes, 'coos placidly and worthily enough'.26 It printed some poetry and short fiction but mosdy art plates, exhibition reviews and art society news, and continued to 'coo placidly' until it was superseded by the Yearbook of the Arts in New Zealand in 1945. Marris's annual New Zealand Best Poems (1932-43) and the monthly New Zealand Mercury (1933-6) published some weak Georgian verse. The clutch of little magazines which had emerged from the universities in the early 1930s—Phoenix, Canterbury's Oriflamme and Sirocco, and the more political Student 2X Victoria—had not survived. As a journal of serious political comment Tomorrow was again a lone voice in a wilderness. Its nearest antecedent was the Auckland-based New Zealand Fortnightly Review which had made a brief appearance in 1933. The Fortnightly Review described itself as an 'independent. . . sanely controversial' paper.27 It lacked though not only endurance but the political stance and provocative tone of Tomorrow. The appearance in 1937 of the weekly Woman Today, a broadly feminist and socialist paper which took over from the Communist Party-affiliated Working Woman, and was to survive for two years (before folding largely through financial difficulty), partly explains the lack of attention given to women's issues in Tomorrow, and the concentration of what there was in the earlier numbers. Writers such as Robin Hyde, who criticised the 'little anti-feminist excerpts'28 which some of her male contemporaries, notably Denis Glover, published in Tomorrow, had somewhere else to express their views (though Hyde also contributed occasionally to Tomorrow—poetry and some prose fiction rather than journalism). As a journal of general political, social, economic and cultural comment, however, Tomorrow was at its inception, and remained at its demise, the only publication of its kind in New Zealand.

16 Tomorrow, 24 July 1935 (v.1, 11.39), P.7

17 Rhodes, The Beginning of Tomorrow (2), p.15

18 Tomorrow, 16 Aug. 1939 (v.5, n.21), back cover, quoted in Cutler, 'Intellectual Sprouts', p.86

19 Rhodes interview

20 F. Sargeson, Sargeson. Auckland: Penguin, 1981, p.180

21 Ibid., pp.177-8

22 Rhodes interview

23 Tomorrow, 13 Oct. 1937 (v.3, n.25), p.778, 27 Nov. 1935 (v.2, n.5), p.8, 31 Oct. 1934 (v.i, n.16), p.13,10 Nov. 1937 (v.4, n.1), p.18

24 Ibid., 31 July 1935 (v.1, n.40), p.19, 4 Sept. 1935 (v.1, n.45), p.23

25 Rhodes interview

26 Rhodes,'On Swearing', Tomorrow, 1 Aug. 1934 (v.1, n.4), p.12

27 New Zealand Fortnightly Review, 1 June 1933  (v.1, n.1), p.1, quoted in Cutler, 'Intellectual Sprouts', p.20

28 R. Hyde, 'Woman Today', Tomorrow, 14 Apr. 1937 (v.3, n.12), p.376