This article is taken from Stand 230, 19(2) June - July 2021.

Hannah Copley Editorial Always Poetry, Always Politics
Stand, Volume 6, No. 2 (1963) contains no editorial. After two poems by Adrian Mitchell, the reader comes to a nineteen-page ‘discussion’ between Jon Silkin and Anthony Thwaite, then literary editor of The Listener and author of Home Truths (1957) and The Owl in the Tree (1963). It is entitled, ‘No Politics, No Poetry?’ and to read it is to witness an earnest debate between two editors at different ends of the post-war UK poetry scene. Their topic: what good poetry should be and what it can do.

There is no room for small talk. No preamble. From the first line it is clear that poetry is a serious business:

I think it is natural in our time that a poet should write about violence. What is disturbing to me, not only in what I see in Gunn’s work, is sometimes a feeling of titillation – that what is being presented – an observed scene of violence – is in some obscure way being enjoyed. (Thwaite, p. 7)

After Thwaite introduces the topic of violence, they go on to discuss the question of poetry’s ‘job’ and immediately disagree. Silkin defends Hughes’s use of personae such as the hawk as a way of standing back, seeing violence ‘and oppos[ing] it’. He celebrates Hughes’s active stance in relation to his subject matter and suggests that Gunn seems to ‘relish’ violence without placing judgement on the act. Such ambiguity appeals to Thwaite, but for Silkin: ‘It is not sufficient to be honest and ...
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