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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 11, No. 1. February 27, 1948

Reluctant Writers—Indifferent Products

page 6

Reluctant Writers—Indifferent Products

When Salient went to press ten years ago, its aim was "to link the University more closely to the realities of the world." The realities referred to were in the main the political realities—Franco and Spain, China and Japan, the submergence of Austria and Czechoslovakia in Greater Germany; at home, capitalism and M. J. Savage, Uncle Scrim, Aunt Daisy, and free speech. There was a smell of burning from the first fires that heralded the great conflagration, and writers hastened to send out last-minute warnings before the ship became a blazing wreck.

In the circumstances one would not have been surprised to find a parallel poetic "realism" in vogue. Certainly the Phoenix Club read a paper on Realism, and offered ten shillings for the best essay on "The Relation of Poetry And Politics." But except for attempts like—

On and grinding on the train
Like a lurching drunkard
Sweating soot . . .

and some of RLM's. the poets kept crying for the moon, or languishing in lush alliterations. The cynics were affectedly world-weary, light humour almost invariably had the heavy touch, even simple thoughts were dressed in ponderous and overdone language, and often an oblique [unclear: nssn] at realism took the form of cocky satire or clever, clever verse. RLM is rhyming couplets-

Now Henrietta was a hen
Of penetrating ac-u-men ...

Probably the editors did believe that the poet should be relating knowledge and social action, commenting on the lives of people busy in a city or on an island, striving to order our values and interpret our moods: but an editor who receives no copy cannot maintain a policy. In July 1939 the editor complains. "No staff has ever had to face such tremendous difficulties, due to the almost complete lack of support from the [unclear: colvc] as a whole. Contributions have been almost non-existent in spite of almost superhuman efforts to secure them. But in the next sentence we read that The literary merit of the contributions has been unusually high"—a statement that obtains no [unclear: eonAmwtlon] from this reviewer. There were no poets, and those who might have been tempted to contemplate their [unclear: navel] were hushed by the threat of war.

Sleeping Dogs Lie

The [unclear: luerarj] page was light. Far more skill went into the presentation of opinions and news, and that has always been the way in Salient, with [unclear: eweotxw*. noiaVh] in, 1946 and 1947 The fact as we have had very few writers at the [unclear: CSUcjpe]. and it is not for lack of [unclear: evNvrting]. Editor after other has called for [unclear: Griftnal] work. They have hoped for a "stratum of experimental work which should be capable of making some-thing like an impact." They have offered precious pages to the cause, believing that "in such an ulcerous epoch as our own, when writing has come to be synonymous with commercial Journalism . . . there is more than Just a casual need for protective measures." The paper did its best; it wooed and wooed but the mistress was deaf.

This sorry state was obvious to many—sometimes they vainly objected and sometimes they in turn became literary editors. The following letter is typical of the career of the literary columns:

. . . And Awake

"For some time past, we the undersigned, have been vaguely troubled concerning the precariousness of the so-called literary columns. This important section of Salient seems to be compressed, and even annihilated, without any notice or reason. Is this owing to insufficiency of material, to the paucity of such material's literary value, or is it perhaps the opinion of those in control, that literature is subsidiary to food and other interesting topics?

Sgd. G. W. Higgin.

D. M. Saker

N. R. Taylor.

In Reply—Up till the time of receiving this letter. Mr. Higgin has sent in no contribution to the Literary Page. Needless to say all of this has not been published. Mr. Taylor has sent in one—all of this has. Mr. Saker. up till the time of receiving the letter, has sent in six contributions. With this issue three have been published. Food is considered, in its place, to be demostrably more important than imagination, which all three gentlemen will quickly find if they stop eating.—Ed."

The war did not help. It took away writers and inspired none at home—it was less effective than the threat of war. In 1942 Literary Editor Hubert Witheford rightly opposed "the belief" that literature is a rather more elegant alternative to horse-racang that should be tactfully aban-doned for the duration of the war." and proved this with a literary page of merit, but alas, short life. He saw, too, that "those same circumstances that make it so difficult to secure the tranquillity necessary for the production of anything of artistic value provide at the same time a body of experience which, if it can be assimilated, may be of incalculable value to the writer . . . we can make an endeavour to be honest with ourselves and achieve some sort of unity between what we have done and thought and read in the past, and what is happening to us now." That was the possibility but no one claimed the prize. Indeed all "original" writing practically disappeared until in May, 1945. the staff carefully prepared synthetic baits:

Poor fool who stood alone
Sally is gone that was so kindly
Perfect little body, without fault or stain
She grew within the heart as a flushed rose . . .

and were pleasantly surprised to have it criticised as "worthless, meaningless botch." "positively fantastic garbage." etc. But in this same year. "Searos" appears and links up a very dull patch with the renaissance of 1946 and 1947. Those two years are the brightest in Salient's literary history. Not brilliant, but bright. Searos. L.A.P.. W.H.O. and P.S.W. have all written and gone on writing verse which is not always tidy, not always free from obvious mistakes, but which is of interest and bears the sign of men at work. And in response we find, for the first time too, a Commentator. E. Schwimmer. writing an intelligent appreciation. (Vol. 10. No. 11) The Literary Society is blooming as never before, and there have been broadsheets of variable quality.

The reader may wonder why we constantly refer to verse only; but if there has been little notable verse, essays and prose fiction have been almost entirely absent. Indeed, this lack of versatility amongst our writes has been most striking and curious. The limitations of space may be in part responsible, but one suspects other reasons." It is as though these forms of expression have been overlooked, and it may be that, he who will be sentimental sees an invitation in the verse form when plain prose turns the shoulder. Whatever the reason, we hope someone will attempt to revive a lost art—a wholesome discipline—to discover the pleasure and power of thoughtful prose, and the humanity fiction can illumine.

Good Book Reviews

But if students have not been writing they have been reading. There has always been a good book review, and a quick appreciation—at times too quick and too free—of most of the Caxton Press writers: Curnow. Glover, Fairburn. Brasch, Baxter. Holcroft. Sargeson. TOMORROW'S demise did not pass unnoticed, nor T. S. Eliot's CRITERION, nor did the suppression or DECAMERON escape with less than an editorial. New developments were constantly being brought to the notice of the students. Salient's files cover adequately ten very eventful years of literarv history: in New Zealand the birth of Modern Books, the Progressive Publishing Society. New Zealand New Writing and Landfall: overseas the writings of Koestler. Auden. MacNeice, the Readers' Digest, the Left Book Club. Penguin New Writing and Poetry.

Victoria has been noted for the at-tention it pays to current politics, and it may also fairly claim to be a place where it is recognized that literature can live on in "the vertical man "