I am intrigued by the ways in which poets
, and their readers and publishers, articulate their contexts. As I indicated in an earlier Editorial, I am working through the literary and social contexts of the world in which Stand
was founded in 1952. What was ‘expected’ then, and how different were the mechanisms of expectation then from what they are in 2018?
I suppose how poets in 1952 saw the role of writing and writers must have been obvious and necessary – just seven years after the war ended, rationing, bomb sites, National Service still; the impact of the Holocaust, the threat of the Bomb, loss and re-identification everywhere; the familiar (how familiar?) demands of ‘society’ on the ‘individual’, the obligations of Law and Politics; Culture, Education, the Arts. No lack of ‘subject matter’ there, then.
I am looking at journals from that time on the assumption that journals, small or large, often seem to have been an agency for thinking about what ‘I’ should write; the how and what, and how it should be published. I am concentrating on the early 1950s though, on the basis that writers then, as now, were often addictive readers and collectors of the immediate best-seeming products of their world, I am looking at some journals of the 1940s and the later 1950s.
, a monthly journal, appeared from December 1939 to January 1950. Its initial goal was to
…encourage[s] the young writers-at-arms who seem to find the need to write more irresistible as the War progresses, keeping them in touch with their French and American contemporaries - in short, continuing our policy of publishing the best critical and creative writing we can find in wartime England and maintaining the continuity of the present with the past.
Vol IV, No. 22, October 1941 announced on the top of its front cover topic list ‘WHY NOT WAR WRITERS? A MANIFESTO’. The issue opens with a ‘Comment’, presumably by Editor Cyril Connolly:
In this number we print a suggestion for the enrolment of war writers to fulfil a function similar to that of war artists. But Horizon goes further and demands that dictatorial powers to clean up our language should be given to a Word Controller. War journalism and war oratory have produced an unchecked inflation in our overdriven and exhausted language. // The first act of our Word Controller (Mr Shaw would be a good choice) should be to issue licences (like driving licenses) to all journalists, authors, publicists, orators and military spokesmen… (p. 229)
Was the proposed ‘Word Controller’ a joke or, perhaps in Hitler’s world, a sad and bitter irony? The Manifesto itself gets off to a clearer proposal:
The rôle of writers today, when every free nation and every free man and woman is threatened by the Nazi war-machine, is a matter of supreme importance. // Creative writers, poets, novelists and dramatists, have a skill, imagination and human understanding which must be utilized as fully as the skill of journalists. (p. 236)
Such a manifest assumption of the functionality of the arts, its essential relevance and truth in a world of deathly non-truth, may have some messages for the 2010s. But for now, I am most interested in the way in which such functionality for poetry may have seemed integral to the post-war world where Silkin and others wrote and edited, founded, and sold their magazines.
The Manifesto concluded thus:
In brief, we propose:
1. The formation of an official group of war writers.
2. Writers to be given the necessary facilities for writing their books.
3. The international exchange of writers to be encouraged and accelerated.
4. A proper proportion of the writers to be of groups most actively engaged in the war.
This statement is prepared by a number of young writers, both in the Forces and in other work of national importance, and is published on their behalf by:
This list is extraordinary for many reasons but for now, I pause on the name Bonamy Dobrée. He was Professor of English at Leeds from 1936 to 1955, friend since the 1920s of T.S. Eliot and other important poets, and in the Horizon
ethos, dedicated to helping young writers. It is a legend that he and Eric Gregory were sheltering in a London tube station during the blitz and they agreed that they had to do something positive after such horror.
It might seem easy to look back, as a researcher, on poets and poetry of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. Larkin, Hughes, Hill, Harrison, Heaney. Their heritage, and their inheritance, offers the lenses through which we select and see. But young poets tend to find their way into publication (and publications) through what they see as their environment ‘now’, or what seem to be offered or presented to them, as the agencies of ‘where it’s happening’. In the pub, the workshop, the University, or alumnae-selected group, or Group, the word goes round that ‘he, over there, has started a magazine – go over and chat…’ In the early ’50s there were many models. Some were survivors from the Second World War or earlier. Some were the result of poets wanting to do it for themselves, to make a mark or perform some moral, political, or aesthetic act of personal commitment. ‘Commitment’ or ‘demand’ or ‘duty’ figured often in early Editorials. It was as though the Horizon
’s Editors’ call to collective action was still heard loud and clear, or was still heard quietly but firmly in the next generation’s University tutorials or in bookshops which offered meeting places for would-be writers.
Having first encountered Stand
in the early 1960s, and having heard and read many times the tale of its founding when Jon Silkin was sacked in 1952 from his janitor’s job (thus a stand against the bosses), I have tended to see running off those first copies as a unique and personal act of courage – poet, worker, editor, salesman, all in a young person’s moments of daring. But Stand
was not alone. Living in Swiss Cottage, Silkin was probably aware of other journals and the people involved. The Cosmo coffee bar was a meeting place for Dannie Abse, Michael Hamburger and Nobel Prize winner Elias Canetti, Poetry was an act of ‘doing’, ‘sharing’, ‘talking’, and, often, selling. Poetry, in the psycho-jargon, was part of a transaction, and to ‘edit’ was to be a major actor in the essential and obvious relationships.
There were several ‘small magazines’ continuing from the 1940s; others founded in the early 1950s; some started along with Stand
in 1952. Colonnade
(Spring 1952, Vol. 1 No. 1), edited by Iain Fletcher, Ian Scott-Kilvert and D.S. Carne Ross, announced its gratitude to its Patrons (‘50s ‘crowd funding’) who included Kenneth Clark, E.C. Gregory, Herbert Read, the Sackille-Wests, the Sitwells, Wallace Stevens. Alan Tate, Lionel Trilling, and G Wilson-Knight. There were more Professors, Doctors, and Knights; three had Leeds connections. The first article was by G.S. Fraser on ‘Yeats and the New Criticism’, and there was an international and historical/classical atmosphere. It was as though the Editors were shouting that they were not diminished or threatened by memory of the war.
(Autumn 1952, Vol. 1 No. 1), edited by Patrick Galvin and Gordon Wharton, was based in London and this first issue was less imposing though it had well known (for the ‘50s) names – Ewart Milne, Muriel Spark, and Derek Stanford. The Editorial was confident, if jokey:
YES, starting a new literary magazine in these days is foolhardy. Still, we feel there is room for another, and given adequate support from readers and contributors, we believe that CHANTICLEER will justify its publication. This first issue is of course largely experimental, a mere taster, for little of the work included was solicited, so the contributors were hardly able to know exactly what was expected of them. So, if we give the impression of impulsive, hurried production, we can only plead that we do not care to let I dare not wait upon I would, and are impelled, regardless of genuine difficulties and gloomy forecastings, to make a start NOW. // Our main concern is for the new writer… (p. 2)
A feature which appeared in other magazines of the time was a collection of very brief reviews of similar journals – in this case Quarto
ed. James Reeves 1s autumn 1952, Mandrake
ed. Arthur Boyars 2s 6d Spring and Summer 1952 [see below], Window
ed. John Sankey 9d February 1952 [see below], Poetry Quarterly
, ed. Wrey Gardiner 2s Autumn 1952. Most of the notices are positive though Poetry Quarterly
earns some humour;
Wrey Gardiner’s literary striptease (with Howard Sergeant as accomplice), does not register, for not even a good view of his ‘aged posterior’ could brighten this number. One is not bound to agree with Mr Gardiner when he says, in an extract from his badly-written journal, ‘that he is tired of editing people’s beastly little poems’, for, see, he continues, in the main, to do so. (p. 22)
This issue contains some notable adverts. One for The Poet
, ed. W. Price Turner from Glasgow (annual sub 4s 6d); issue 4 contains poems by E.E. Cummings and Chanticleer
editor Gordon Wharton. Another from Poetry Manchester
(No. 4 Sept 1952) boasting poems from Leeds Gregory Fellow James Kirkup, the following Gregory Fellow John Heath-Stubbs, Leeds academic Wilfred Rowland Childe and, again, Gordon Wharton.
The second issue, from Spring 1953, contained reviews by Ewart Milne and G.S. Fraser, and poems by Milne and Fraser, a translation of Jacques Prévert, and poems by other small magazine editors – Jon Silkin, W. Price Turner, and Gordon Wharton. Already a formidable list of contributors and a confident presentation.
One of the apparent distinctions between groups of small magazines rests on their relationship with, or independence from, Universities. Some, like Mandrake
started in Oxford but moved away. Others, throughout their short lives, maintained an address in Oxford even if the Editors had moved. Departure
was edited by John Adlard and Alan Brownjohn both from Merton College. I used to think that Stand
must have been uniquely eccentric on omitting the year of publication from its Editorial (or any other) page. Departure
is the same. From the known publication dates of books reviewed, and Brownjohn’s year of Graduation (1953), it was probably started in 1952 or ’53. Vol. 1 No. 2 has an Editorial discussing Undergraduate poetry:
‘Undergraduate experience is necessarily fragmentary and the poem is its best means of literary expression,’ wrote a correspondent who approved of the considerable space devoted to poetry in the first issue of Departure. (p. 1)
Adlard and Brownjohn also celebrate their publishing:
In addition to work by Oxford poets – with the emphasis his time on some newer poets – we are pleased to be able to include poems by two poets who have only recently left the university, and by three established poets of distinction. (p. 1)
Of the ten poets included I guess that Vernon Watkins, Kathleen Raine, and James Kirkup were the three ‘distinguished’, and of the remaining seven, those who were still students or who had recently left included Martin Seymour-Smith, Christopher Driver (later Editor of the Good Food Guide
), and J. E[dward] M. Lucie-Smith. Lucie-Smith later became organiser of the London Group after Hobsbaum, an activity which depended on the perceived value of regular personal contact, sharing and discussion of each individual’s latest poems. In 1987 Brownjohn wrote perceptively on the ways in which poetry is handed on:
…more poets are influenced by their peers in poetry at the time they all started writing than by anyone else at all. It may even be through their peers, instead of more directly, that the power of a famous living poet is felt, or if not through peers who are exactly contemporary in age or level of attainment, then through poets who are perhaps half a generation ahead of them… (Alan Brownjohn, ‘A Preference for Poetry: Oxford Undergraduate Writing of the Early 1950s’, MRHA The Yearbook of English Studies Vol. 17 1987 p. 62
In Vol.1 No. 3 the poets included John Heath-Stubbs (already Gregory Fellow at Leeds), Anthony Thwaite, Norman Nicholson, George MacBeth, and Geoffrey Hill (possibly at that time doing postgraduate work in Oxford or already on his way to Leeds; the poem was ‘The Bidden Guest’). There were also three American poets – the journals of the time kept a canny eye on poetry from across the Atlantic
; through guilt or admiration the British felt the need to be aware – perhaps a view not reflected in conventional views of post-1945 UK poetry. One was James Boyer May who later wrote a brief but detailed study of the small magazines of the time, both from the UK and USA, Twigs as Varied Bent
, Corona, New York, Sparrow Magazine, printed in UK by Villiers publications 1954. There was a review of James Kirkup’s book A Correct Compassion
, the title poem of which arose from being invited to watch open heart surgery in Leeds while he was Gregory Poetry Fellow there. There was also a review of ‘Some Contemporaries’ (i.e. four journals) though, amazingly, they are not from Oxford or Cambridge: Aesthetics
from Bombay, India Quarterly 1/6, Contact
from Toronto, Canada Quarterly $1, Nightwatchman
from Wigston, Leicester Bi-annually 6d, and Trace
from London Tri-annually 9d. Nightwatchman
was a cyclostyled poetry magazine edited by Iris Orton who was then seen as an important poet published by OUP. Her poems appeared in the 1952 first Stand
What am I claiming? On the one hand, the world of poetry works on the assumption that those with a first-hand interest are likely to benefit from meeting their peers either socially and/or through some collaborative project – starting, printing, selling, and editing a magazine. But on the other hand, as part of that poets’ peer collaboration there is usually a sense of peer contact with general beliefs in a historical context – perhaps a version of commitment in politics and a belief in the social, personal, and educational imperative of keeping poetry going. My next Editorial on this theme will look at Mandrake, The Poet,
and Poetry and Poverty, Platform,
with a nod to Poetry Manchester
which was edited from Hull and printed in Leigh, Lancs. – ‘Poetry Manchester