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Arachne. No. 2

Refuge in Craftsmanship

Refuge in Craftsmanship

Henry Moore's Delicate Lyre Birds Have flown from the front cover, their places being taken by an elegant Sean Jennett mandala. Tambimuttu had already left the editorial corner-seat; Richard March stays on and Nicholas Moore moves from associate to co-editor. John Heath-Stubbs, Jon Manchip White, Alan Curnow, and Elisabeth Cluer have poems which deserve the attention of any reader of verse, while, of the reviewers, Hugh Gordon Porteus, one of England's most remarkable younger poets, compares Pound and MacNeice in a way which is always engaging, frequently perceptive and not too often merely amiable.


Meanwhile the editorial of the new management states, somewhat apodictically, a new policy rather like a French garden. It is, one notices, not entirely in accordance with many poems in the volume, which retain the wild-flower style. The policy pretends to fit the conditions of 1950, opposite to those of 1940; like all such policies, it assumes a simplified idea of time and history. However it is interesting to see, from this editorial as well as other signs, that the emphasis has shifted from a large and universal style (1940) to a precise and limited one (1950). The editorial says:

'The "profound" stanzas full of high-flown, vague emotion and undigested philosophy are not likely to be the most successful ones.'

'What is needed is not so much the "inspired" poem as a renewal of style: first-class workmanship rather than the prophetic tone.'

Poetry London is less concerned here with the effusions of the Dylan Thomas school than with philosophical and occult poems or stanzas trying to state ideas in direct style. The problem of the individual or the artist in a society developing towards collectivism has been one of the chief subjects treated; there is no doubt that much dullness has been perpetrated on this topic.

In New Zealand it is difficult to have much sympathy with the remedy suggested in the editorial. The main problem here is not dull thinking coupled to wild inspiration, but a great deal of thinking coupled to a dead inspiration. To be not sufficiently solid or careful is a rarer vice. On the other hand one does feel some nostalgia for a society of a sophistication such that it can aim at style and perfection as chief pursuits. Here one is fortunate to be able to deliver the goods at all, even if they remain somewhat rough. Finesse cannot at present become a major preoccupation.