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Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 2. 1969.

Castles... In Spain

page 6

Castles... In Spain

Prayer, Prose and Poetry with Trevor James

Last week Trevor James took Argot to task because it "did not commit any severe breaches of propriety". This was "unfortunate". In the course of his review, Trevor expressed qualified admiration for only two poems— A Breaking of Stone Tablets by Frederick C. Parmee and A Song About Her by Sam Hunt. Both of these ports are romantics and Sam Hunt has never, as far as I am aware, had difficulty in conveying his meaning—his language is simple and very vocative. He has clearly eschewed obsurantism. Trevor said that this poem "needs a lot of polish":

My liquor bill cut by half
up from two years with the dead
I've ripped faded pin-ups down
kicked my pillows out of bed.
Trotting her home last night
down past Mount Street Cemetery
my silent girl she said how much
she hoped she'd soon see more of me.
Then as yesterday at Makara Beach
I would not try the ancient move
for fear I would destroy
what only time and silence prove.
Two years out of practice
writing cool Platonic love songs about
a girl too innocent to seize
the hot-rod of a V8 lout
I'm singing now because the shell-banks
shine and in the sun here, sober,
smoking her last night's butts,
I know I love her.

Of List's poems. Trevor wrote "Both of Dennis List's poems were superbly evocative and despondently unmeaningful. He would do well to see if he could be both evocative and yet retain some semblance of reality". It's difficult for me to see how a poet can be "evocative" without evoking something—presumably that something is the 'meaning' Trevor is so anxious to find. Do you think it matters whether this poem has any "semblance of reality"

The Camels Are Coming

If all arabs were abolished
think of the wild camels
the wild dates
the wild oates
the wild profusion of Arabia
without those bearded, restless beatniks,
Call your camel and hundreds of
hears . . . giraffes . . . heliothrix
pour from the oases,
Onagers and quaggers at your doorstep,
A graceful quandary of quans neighing
indelight, at John the Baptist
grinning by the desert
at his unfeathered friends.

I won't quote Tom Smuckcr's Hyde Park, Hyde Park here —but I wonder how many readers shared my awe at this sentence: "For example, Hyde Park by one Tom Smucker might just as well be told in prose rather than fool around with the fancy line arrangement". This sentence is spleen— prejudice not criticism.

Photo: Robert Joiner

Photo: Robert Joiner

David Harcourt is editor of Argot

Two points made in the opening paragraphs of Trevor's criticism should be noted. He says "I was quite diligent about reading the review copy, marking the margins, underlining good lines, etc". I suppose some members of the English Department would pat Trevor on page 7the head for that—it sounds like the advice lecturers give to Stage 1 students. The idiots who follow it invariably hate poetry. The second point is the statement that "Most of the poems seemed just too 'gimmicky', as if the writers were unwilling to admit that they were not prepared to sit down and grapple with the problems of language and sweat until they found a viable way of expression". I haven't grappled with the problem of sweat since the last Young National Party Ball so I can't tell what Trevor is after there (a deodorant?), but I don't think I can accept this accusation of "gimmickiness". Trevor doesn't mention Alan Brunton's Note of a Poet—I suspect that this is because he just can't make anything out of it. Can it be dismissed as "gimmicky"?

Chan-Yen Yuan In The Year Of The Hare Frescoes The Palace Of Genghis The Sun

calligraphy is a thing
which scores the fetch and carry of merchants
concretes the play
of kith an sib at the wedding feast
It kindles nech an crop
the divine changlings
of Nature, fathoms
recondite an subtle
wonders. The Mountains
are its prophets.
Its excise is equal
to any of the
Six Arts of the Ancients
an it saunters
cheek by jowl
with the Four Seasons'
frosty spin of the world.
Clutched from Nature herself
not from human
rail and terror.

It seems that Trevor doesn't like contemporary poetry very much—whether it appears in Argot or not. Perhaps his preference is for his own poetry. He wrote the following poem which appeared last week.

My love of honey coloured hair
whose cloudy skeins, disrupting thought
by tenuous filaments so fair
against my burning cheek, I sought:
Smiling, cease to be unkind.
This coldness is not aimed at you.
Pale indecision stands behind
sifting thought to try whats true.
My eyes, my heart, will not resolve
for fearfully desire is chilled
as tenuous dreams, by you, dissolve
fraught, uncertain and thus are killed.
Desire, from hope, too soon is born
and wished-for love becomes forlorn.

Pretty, ordinary, in my opinion—gets a silver star for effort. I'm not crazy about it because it's ultra-trad.— it's so much yesterday's news that I don't think I can be bothered with it. Argot is not intimately concerned with poetry in the Romantic Tradition—simply because most contemporary poetry is not written in this tradition. Of course, if you like the Screaming Romantics and Steaming Obscurantists you may like Trevor's poem— but I wonder if you could honestly say that it 'commits any severe breaches of propriety'? No? Well, that's where we came in. Trevor suggested that it was unfortunate that Argot 'did not commit any severe breaches of propriety'.