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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1937



One of the most valuable features of the Spike competitions is the opportunity afforded young writers of having their work subjected to independent criticism. Mr. W. J. Scott, of the Teachers' Training College, undertook no small task in judging the Literary contributions this year, and we give below his considered discussion of their merits and defects.

I have bracketed together for first place three poems, "(lovE)ution," "Malice," and "Statement," all by the one author.

Before making some comments on the entries, may I without rancour protest against the conditions of this competition? Last year, I notice, the judge remarked that "it is of course impossible to make prose and verse compete." With this opinion I strongly agree. The lumping together of prose and verse in a competition for one prize, when both poets and prose writers are reasonably able, makes a farce of the competition. I hope those responsible will change the conditions for next year, and offer at least two prizes.

I am quite disinterested in making this protest. As it happened the conditions of the competition did not embarrass me, because with one exception the prose pieces submitted ruled themselves out of consideration by their ordinariness, or worse, and I was left with only the verse to concern myself with. The exception was "Paranoia," which has some distinction. It is not by any means an entire success. For one thing it requires more elaboration to get an adequate effect; in his attempt to suggest the degree of tension for which his paranoic was suffering, the author has overdone the concentration of statement. For another. I think the similes spoil it; they are too studied and give the piece an air of artificiality. None the less

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G. A. Eiby.

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Tournament Representatives 1937.

Tournament Representatives 1937.

S. P. Andrew.

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it is composed with some skill. Of the other prose pieces the criticism can fairly be made that their writers either had nothing very important or compelling to say or, when they did have something, failed to say it effectively. To put it differently (since it is perhaps questionable if these alternatives really do exist) they did not have a large enough stock of manageable ideas; so that what they wrote was too lifeless, too commonplace, to impress or excite. Should the Editor decide to publish "For they shall inherit the earth," readers who are interested will be able to see what I mean. It is a subject I have much sympathy with and one I should have liked to see made real and vital; but I could make no response to the author's method of treating it. Parables and personifications such as he has used are so stale, so mangled by overwork, that they have lost the power to strike home.

Generally speaking the poetry was decidedly better. None of the good poems submitted were without blemish of some kind, but several of them were competent pices of work. No doubt at all exists in my mind that the author of the three poems I have placed first has a greater poetic sensibility and a wider range of knowledge and experience than any of the others; and the genuineness of his feeling, too, is clearly beyond question. What he has to say—what he is trying to say it must be sometimes, because he does not in my opinion always manage to say it coherently—is often intricate and difficult; but he has managed the obliquity of reference such themes demand with considerable skill. The means he has used are less obvious and more original than those of any of the other competitors.

Having said that. I want to criticise some of his work. The middle part of "Malice." for example, I find rhythmically flat and rather meaningless, and I would criticise the line "empty as a Lord Mayor's laugh" in "(lovE)ution" on the ground of triteness. On similar grounds I object to the theme of his poem "Bishop," well written though in many ways it is. "Bishop" and "Lord Mayor" as terms of abuse have surely entered the class of overworked and hackneyed symbols. Though "Statement." unlike some others of the several interesting poems sent in by this writer, is coherent and complete, it has one or two ineffective lines—"steady in grace" for example.

I must confess, too. that "the focal point where past and present dovetail" conveys no very intelligible meaning to me.

"Ring-a-Ring-a-Rosary" I can make little of; certainly the title gives a vague direction, but the poem as a whole will not take any clear shape in my mind. (This poet incidentally is more accommodating than W. H. Auden used to be—he at least gives his more cryptic poems titles!) "Synod" begins with a very effective couplet; "Lees" is weak, especially the second half of it; "Configuration" is good enough verse, but more imitative and less distinguished than most of the others.

Other poems that impressed me are "In Etyel's Hall," "Suicide," "The Necklace of Commerce," "Transient." "Half Light," "I Shall Grow Old Without Regret." "Pas-toralia," roughly in that order, and particularly the first two. I am not quite sure, however, that the metaphor which is the main element in the excellent rhythmic movement of "In Etyel's Hall" will bear examination:

"Nor dared unslip the strained cords which keep

Eye, ear. and sinew at Fear's swift command."

If the analogy is with dogs on the leash, the figure gives the opposite meaning to the one intended—that is, action instead of relaxation; if with slaves tied by a master, it is still not a success: slaves in such a position would scarcely be able to obey their master's swift commands swiftly; if with dogs pulling in harness, it might do. but did the author intend this?

In "Suicide," too, there is an analogy that seems to me inaccurate:

"Did naught dissemble, then the naked Truth

Must shield her eyes in weeping."

If there were no deceit, what would happen? (1) Truth would be stripped bare; (2) She, a person, would be so overwhelmed with grief or shame that she could not bear to look on—what? Is it her own nakedness? But why, if she is Truth? I do not think that the raising of such points is quibbling, but legitimate and necessary criticism. A poem fails in one of its most important elements if the analogies or comparisons used are inaccurate or incomplete. In this respect, poetry must be more carefully written than prose, which since it is less concentrated and repetition may be used in it more freely, can get away with looser and less precise comparisons.

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"The Necklace of Commerce" is technically interesting and not ineffective; so is "Transient." The first line of this poem, by the way, has apparently been lifted, with two minor alterations, from Robert Frost's "This saying good-bye on the edge of the dark"—unless, of course, the identity is quite accidental.

The main fault of the poetry submitted was a rather irritating carelessness of composition, arising fairly certainly, not from absence of ability, but from a failure to spend the time and energy needed to complete and round off the work begun. Many blemishes could have been removed by the expenditure of a little more Carlylean sweat. I recommend aspiring poets not to trust to flashes of inspiration, but to take seriously the admonition to revise assiduously, to prune away the loose inaccurate analogy, and the dead and moribund metaphor, to revise again, and recast, until every element of the poem fits into its exact place in the whole and helps it to go unerringly home.