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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 32, No. 19. August 6, 1969

Books — The Reflecting Image


The Reflecting Image

Argot is at last reflecting its position as "official" (i.e. subsidised) literary magazine to the Student's association by becoming in issue 20, clearly and well laid-out and printed—in short, readable at last. Unfortunately a lack of close liaison with the printers has led to a rather gross error (the transposition of two pages), but this sort of thing is to be expected in the transition betwen two printing methods, and should not now recur.

Perhaps in an attempt to retain some link with their past history of ethnic poverty (as typified by Argot 18, which appeared to have been perpetrated on an extremely aged Gestetner at three in the morning) the editors affect the disuse of capital, in a conventionally punctuated, conventionally written editorial; and allow their collective personality to express itself in totally unnecessary little exchanges like that at the end of Owen Gager's article. It is generally assumed that the opinions expressed in magazine articles are not necessarily those of the editors, and this kind of childishness, which has expressed itself elsewhere as complaints that reviewers of Argot have been pursuing personal vendettas against the editors, in no way contributes to the standard of the magazine.

Unfortunately this sort of thing—layout and general editorial policy, does matter. Even in the most literary of literary magazines it is still desirable that the content be readable and that the editors restrict themselves to the editorial pages except where explanation is absolutely essential.

So much for Argot as a magazine—what of Argot as a literary magazine?

Throughout the year the standard of poetry in Argot has been consistently high, with a core of competent poets providing the bulk of the contributions. The best work in this issue seems to be the three poems by Sam Hunt, whose economy and simplicity of language echo the best of James K. Baxter's work, without being in any way plagiaristic. The other contributions vary from the mediocre (Ian Matheson's ineffective study "the lounge"') to the good (David Dougald's narrative 'reflections', which is an excellent statement of a situation which unfortunately seems too romanticised for reality).

The prose is again mediocre. Roger Lawrence's short story is just another rendition of an extraordinarily frequent theme, and his writing is not capable of lifting it from triteness. It is neither trenchant social commentary not competent satire. Much the same could be said of John Cording's effort.

Gary Langford's story "Mandown", is a distinct improvement—he manages to create some kind of mood, and though the richness of his language verges on melodrama, the story is easily the most promising prose writing Argot has published this year.

The articles by Simon During and Cordon Burt are both well-constructed and reasonably well-written expressions of expressions of personal theories. And Owen Gager has made an extremely valid and important point, even if he allows his personal likes and dislikes to become over-important.

The illustrations are as usual, pleasing and decorative and mediocre.

But the main, and most encouraging feature of Argot 20 is the interview with Russell Haley. This kind of contribution from artists of all kinds, whether elicited by interview or written as a straight manifesto, is extremely valuable to both contributing and non-contributing readers. It gives background and depth to the man's poems and allows readers to make a more valid judgement in their own terms. This is much more valuable than over-intellectualised theories on the English novel. In the same way the same sort of statement from local musicians would he of more worth than Cordon Burt's article.

After the last disastrous attempt at a record review, Argot appears to have given up all attempts at reviewing. But if it is to fulfil its function as a literary magazine, Argot should be reviewing new poetry and prose.

In general, then Argot is improving as a vehicle for literary expression and criticism, and if it could reverse its priorities and place its readers before its editors and their friends, it could, in its new readable form, go even further.