Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 8, No. 7. June 13, 1945
Aspirations axed—no inspiration
Aspirations axed—no inspiration
We wish to thank those people who have written in and so effectively debunked our literary page. We are phased that a few readers, at least, share our views on its merit.
For the future, we ask the poets to continue writing for us. Selection of material to be published will be based on two questions. Is the verse comprehensible to other persons than the writer? Is the experience, emotion, or idea, with which it deals, conveyed better in the verse than it could be in prose? All other criticism we shall leave to more competent judges than ourselves.
Dear Sir,—You call for critical comments on the recent literary efforts that have appeared in your pages. I certainly have some remarks to make concerning the verse.
Possibly the editor's intentions were good; possibly the poets were inspired; I am willing to grant the former, I refuse to concede the latter; and I am sure of my ground, having studied the work of contemporary poets as a hobby for a number of years.
Taking the poems in the order of appearance, let us consider the effort of "Davenport." Possibly this gentleman has been influenced by T. S. Eliot. I do not deny him the right to imitate any more than I should deny a monkey the right to mimic a human being. But at least the inane actions or the monkey are recognised for what they are, and not considered "artistic." In the field of physical activity people's sense of what constitutes idiocy seems to be developed to a high degree, but in the field of art any puerility in words can be accepted as fine writing. This "poem" is a case in point. If "Davenport" actually took himself seriously, when he wrote this piece of unmitigated drivel, I can only say that he has found his way into the wrong institution. Its lack of unity, its purposeless contradictions and discordant mixing of images, its incoherence and lack of sincerity are condemnation enough in themselves; it is, in short, a worthless, meaningless botch.
The same comments apply to the brain-child of "Searos," although the poverty of this piece is to a certain extent alleviated by the "piling-up" of short words and masculine rhymes, and the not inappropriate use of onomatopoetic words and phrases.
"Poor fool," etc., by Miss (?) Aylesbury calls for a special comment; this cannot be criticised as a poem, for it is very clearly not one, even in the sense that the two previously dealt with samples can be considered as poems. Quite evidently the author has written down separate lines having no connection one with the other; the result is a mess. The quoted lines in the middle have been, apparently, lifted; they have no connection with the other lines, some of which I seem to recall, incidentally, although I cannot say off-hand where I have seen them. So much for "Poor fool . . ." Poor fool is he who takes this sort of garbage seriously.
As for the "Lines from an Unfinished Elegy," those who read this critique may go to the trouble of ploughing through Ruskin until they find the sentence which J. Kinross has broken up into vers libre. It is remarkable that this has so far escaped the notice of other litterati.
I intend to deal with the poems in the sixth issue in another letter.—I am, etc.,
Dear Sir,—There are, I understand, approximately 240 students taking English in Stage I at VUC this year. Most of these students have, I expect, obtained their copies of The Centuries' Poetry, Part 5, which is required reading; many, no doubt, have at least given the volume brief attention; further, a fair percentage of other students have had occasion to study it in detail in the past.
At a conservative estimate, I would say that half these ladies and gentlemen read Salient regularly; at least a quarter must have paid some attention to the mess of disjointed asininity which you published as "poetry" in your fifth issue. I suggest that they turn back to that particular issue, examine the "poem" by "Miss Aylesbury," and then give their earnest attention to the index of first lines in the above-mentioned volume.
Either Salient's editor is being deceived by some person with a uniquely distorted sense of humour, or Salient is playing a quaint little trick on its readers, evidently with considerable, and, may I add, commendable success. So far as a literary hoax alone is concerned, I should be the last to put pen to paper in condemnation.
But this is evidence of a most deplorable apathy and lack of observation among the students of Victoria College. It would he greatly amusing were It not so utterly pitiful. I cannot put into words ray very sincere grief at the prevalence of this attitude of mind among intelligent young people today, and yet we are told that the future of the world lies in the hands of such as these.
Barnum, I greatly fear, was only too right.—I am, etc.,
Dear Sir,—I take it as axiomatic that in poetry we expect a large measure of restraint. In a sense we might say poetry is the science of restraint. Now the temptation to end a poem in a blaze of glory is great and so the point at which restraint is most often discarded is in the last line. After controlling themselves with at least some discretion in the body of the poem, writers will let fly with everything at the end only to become false, trite or sentimental. Nearly every poem published to date is, in my opinion, under suspicion, but to illusstrate the three faults let me quote M.H.W.'s "I am a stranger to myself" as a false analysis, Danver's "I pause and turn my head unto the East" as an example of triteness, and Davenport's "In gold mirrors of silver sheen" as sentimental word play.
And finally let me illustrate another fault by saying that I don't think the space used to print these contributions is a waste any more than war is a waste.—I am, etc.,
J. C. P. Williams.
Dear Sir,—May I take the liberty of proffering an ex-student's very can did opinion on the verse that has recently been making its appearance in Salient.
Possibly my intellectual powers have deteriorated since college days and I may lack an appreciation of budding genius, but I believe that among all the incomprehensible jargon I have ever had the misfortune to read, some of the execrable attempts published recently more than hold their own. Admittedly obscurity in poetry is the order of the day and poetic surrealism is considered brilliant by many. But may I suggest that in the opinion of those lovers of poetry whose less brilliant intellects dare to criticise and fail to appreciate the subtleties of these master minds, to class this sort of drivel as poetry is positively fantastic.
Granted that there is the type of person (not uncommon among University students) who will laud this type of bilge to the skies because they consider it advanced and so on, there yet remain a considerable number of more honest readers (who would feel no shame in being classed as reactionaries) to whom poetry means something more than a meaningless conglomeration of words, incomprehensible to any but the mind that strung them together.
But perhaps, after all, I have been a little arbitrary. Perhaps your contributors of verse write with their tongue in their cheek and trust to the credulity of a few unthinking students who have not yet learned to distinguish the chaff from the wheat—I am, etc.,
"The first literary composition of a quick-minded child is always some sort of jingle. It starts out with an [unclear: inans] idea—half an idea. Sticking to prose, it could go no further. But to its primary imbecility it now adds a meaningless phrase which, while logically unrelated, provides an agreeable concord in more sound—and the result is the primordial tadpole of a sonnet. All the sonnets of the world, save a few of the miraculous (and perhaps accidental) quality, partake of this fundamental non-sensicality. In all of them there are ideas that would sound idiotic in prose, and phrases that would sound clumsy and uncouth in prose."—H. L. Mencken, in "The Poet and His Art."
If there are gods, and it is claimed there are,
Most certainly they live not on the earth,
But, being products of celestial birth,
They dwell instead upon some fulgent star.
And surely, there, all things that lovely are
Have their fulfilment, and there is no dearth
Of things whose presence gives to life its worth,
With nothing ill their qualities to mar.
And surely there, indeed, there was distilled
Beauty in pliant form, which skilful gods
Moulded into your form, and forth with filled
With vibrant life which, now through orbs of blue
Pours swift delight upon this world of clods—
This dark, ephemeral, tarnished foil for you.
—Thos. G. L. Cockroft.