The Spike or Victoria College Review 1947
Verse and Prose
Verse and Prose
Those who think there is not a widespread interest in writing in this country should see the mail we receive at the Caxton Press. There do, indeed, seem to be far more New Zealanders writing verse than there are reading it. I am not for the moment talking about standards: it is, I'm afraid, impossible for me to think as highly of what is submitted to us as do the authors themselves. But I begin with this statement firstly because nearly all the good writing comes from the university or its graduates, and secondly because I want Spike readers to realise that I bring to the judgment of their verse and prose an eye that is not a little glazed, and a resignation as patient (rolling mss. out of the door) as that of Sisyphus.
First helping to write and edit them, and later in the meaner task of printing them, I have had a good deal to do with university magazines and reviews. And I have always been rather impressed by Spike. Through Victoria College seems to blow a fine breeze of freedom, not without the acrid smoke of hard-hitting controversy. I am not pretending that undergraduate writing is on the whole anything remarkable. If it suffers from the faults of youth, those are faults that time will soon remedy. But I have noticed, particularly from Victoria, a vigour and persistence that will, it is to be hoped, become firmly established as a tradition. And over the last few years there has been verse of very interesting quality.
So to my judgments.
Of the verse in this issue, I find A Prelude for Contemporary Lovers quite the best. The parsley wreath (or whatever it is) goes there fore to P. Wilson. In arriving at this decision I have been influenced not merely by the metrical fluency—the rhyming itself is very well handled, and the balance between long and short lines struck with a good ear—but also by the writer's achievement in controlling the logic of his argument, a feat not to be despised in these days of subconscious and cinematographic verse-writing. I hear echoes in his poem, wholly admirable echoes. In subject, argument and verse-form it reminds me strongly of the Caroline poets:
('But with his keener eye
The axe's edge did try!)
Here is Mr Wilson:
These contraries one life must hold;
Now fancy fair for truths untold
Must make a logic living lacked
And test a world no worlds enact,
Making poet child
And all his visions wild.
And the whole poem displays the discursive fluency of Horace in the least tiresome of his epistles and satires. (Though in structure page 32 it may resemble more the Odes.)
Mr W. H. Oliver commands attention, and not alone by his productivity. But I sometimes feel he has a rush of blood to the head. It is natural that undergraduate poets, if male, should be bent on uttering the unutterable, pondering the imponderable, and comprehending the incomprehensible. (If female they turn with a certain wistfulness to trees.) And Mr Oliver, though I always enjoy his verse, seems to me to be a little over-insistent on his poetic inspiration. He has a use of imagery and language that commands respect, but I must confess that I am rather too simple-minded always to see what he is driving at. New Departure is a series of images woven round an attitude. It is an insistent 'I' poem, and on reaching the end of it I found myself not much caring where Mr Oliver departs to. (One of us is too great an egotist.) I hope the author will forgive me when I say that his work is too often ruined by this kind of attitudinising. It's just bad acting. For instance, ghost or no ghost interrupting his swot, he is not going to burn the lettered past ':it is more likely that he will get through every subject and let the ghostly future look after itself. In the same way Advice (badly titled) starts off with six good lines. It looks interesting, until Mr Oliver rushes on to the stage with a few props. The Seasonless (whoever they may be), catalogues a number of images. It is well done; but Mr Oliver puts up his images only to shy bricks at them: they are all negatived, by the nature of the poem. He tells us all the things the seasonless don't do; and it is with some disappointment that we find them with 'only the unredeemable time Even we seasonable folk find time just that.
After Mr Oliver's experimental aviation, it is a relief to turn to Jan Minogue's The Seventh Day. It is of the sea, salty. We can all enjoy it for what it is, not for what the author hopes we think it will be. And anyone who thinks the writing of good couplets too easy can just keep on trying.
Godfrey Wilson's Incantation shows that he is not yet disillusioned (though 'sun-fine hair' is sharply excellent). It is a high fervour, but it leaves me cold. And 'the great heights of your cool brow 'on which the poet clambers (the wrong word because of its association with' clammy), induces a feeling of dizziness. I'm not being flippant when I say that the girl sounds too tall.
With Koru and Acanthus Mr Gretton has modestly called for small type. But it is a very large sheet he writes on. This is an ambitious poem. It is not easy, even in a long poem, to compare impressions of two different worlds. And Mr Gretton, to emphasise this difference, sometimes picks over his comparisons too closely. In spite of 'bitter poets gnawing their finger-nails, 'I find part one very attractive. But there are infelicities in the succeeding sections. (But, Mr Gretton, 'the casual cabbage-tree with spritely/Asterisk succeeds admirably!) Objectively written, and with some debt, surely, to Allen Curnow's earlier attitudes, the poem shows Mr Gretton discontented with the social security life. Personally I prefer the sharp satiric scalpel to a rather hopeless and resigned statement of the shortcomings of our life. After a good deal of analysis, and a last section of positive affirmation (and of sustained merit, too) it is only by inference that Mr Gretton tells us what to do about it. He has a fox-hole, but he won't say where it is. This is not a finished poem, but it is an intensely interesting one.
Miss Entrician (though belonging to the I too school, one degree worse than the 'O' poets) has written a very good poem. There is no clumsiness here. The first two sections of Answers have an elusive quality, and the climax of the poem, though the answer appears to be nature-study, is fine descriptive writing with a very satisfying last couplet.
The prose entries have given me a spot of bother. Some people want their work judged but not printed, other printed but not judged. It is all very confusing. But of the printed work Time Past, Time Future by J. O'Hagan should get any prize-money offering. This story exemplifies what I said about Victoria College in my opening remarks. It shows a disregard for conventions more firmly established than religion, but it is not satiric, and the irony where it occurs is a sympathetic one—that recoils (as irony does) in a nicely engineered denouement.
The conflicting ideals and loyalties of two page 33 generations are the theme, the one of withered hopes allied to exalted necrophilia and the poignancy of memories (together with all the irrelevance that goes with them), the other a youthful confidence in youth's logic and clarity of vision. Both dialogue and incident are convincing. But this is a story that needs little analysis. It may startle or offend people (part of the necessary technique, this) but afterwards they will think it over. Mr O'Hagan would have brought a thin smile to the lips of Thomas Hardy.
As in her verse, so in her prose. Jan Minogue brings sympathy, observation and humour to bear on Mr Porter. It is unimportant as a story—just easy, pleasant reading of the kind one doesn't somehow expect in a university magazine. Mr Porter is a pathetic and insignificant little figure. The author holds him up by the scruff of the neck for us to see, gives him a smack on the bottom, an affectionate tweak on the ear, and one or two loving smacks over the face. Thus we observe his behaviour, and find, to our surprise, that there's not a squeak out of him. Mr Porter is one of those who Suffer in Silence.
Two outstanding stories were submitted by Bruce McLeod, but they are not for publication. What follows is therefore between Mr McLeod and myself. The Other Half deals with the life of a bookie's tout in a pub. This specimen is well known to all of us who are not too rarified to lean up against a bar, but I have not seen him indigenously portrayed before. The conversation and the atmosphere and the background noises are just right (it is more than sacriligious to demand a drink in a pub while a race is being broadcast). The bookie is a good New Zealander; he entertains no thoughts that are not hard and simple, and they are all devoted with a beautiful objectivity to adding a few more notes to the roll in his pocket. Plot there is none: this is a portrait of a type, and a very illuminating one.
A Spot of Faith, by the same writer, centres on the faith-healing racket. That has been dealt with before; but Mr McLeod does it freshly, in the first person, and with restrained humour. It is, indeed, not the humour of things that affects the 'I' of the story, but the ridiculousness. The central figure, a disabled soldier, is made acutely uncomfortable by his sister, his surroundings and himself. But there's a smart save at the end, and not by the Brethren.