Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Monthly Archives: November 2016

An exhumination of some work in progress

This is what I believe they call a holding letter. Five and a bit years back, this blog was mostly a matter of thinking aloud: bish, bash, bosh, done. But as the content has leaned more towards the researchable, a backlog has built of stuff to be tidied up and rounded off. And some of these unfinished explorations have involved generous input from others who have kindly got in touch.

So please bear with me.

twg-smallerThough what remains of his Irene is safely paged up above, I still need to do the full business on the extraordinary and now invisible Terence White, aka Terence White Gervais, Gervas d’Olbert, Gervas White, Terence Gervais-White etcetera, organist, composer, poet in five languages, orientalist, Joycean disciple, rough sleeper, possible heroin user and much else. To be going on with, my thanks to Louise Prey for this great pic of TWG in (worryingly) a clerical collar. This is only the second image of the man I’ve yet come across. But Terence needs rescuing, and it is in hand.

Then there’s the need to say a little more of the remarkable Melville Hardiment, poet, painter, soldier, educator, school magazine pioneer, and the man who introduced William Burroughs to LSD, or tried to. (Already touched on as Wyndham Lewis’s “Mr Gartsides”.) Thank you, Sophie Bissmire, for the memories and the photos. It will get done.

My recent attempts to figure out the person behind the extraordinary ‘forties images of Stanley Jackson were left a bit hanging. The revelation that there were not one but two Stanley Jacksons is thanks to conversations with Jackie and Eloise Hendrick, daughter and granddaughter of one Stanley, to whom I’m very grateful. We may now be in a position to disentangle the strange coincidences that have confused these two artists, so a stab at something definitive(ish) on The Two Stanleys is somewhere on the horizon.


What else? More could be said on the anarchist poetry of Alex Comfort and George Woodcock. In fact, ‘forties writing as a whole still has a lot to yield. And mention of Mr Gartsides reminds me that I’ve been meaning to get to grips with the vexed history of school art teaching, from Ruskinesque daffodils to the Marion Richardson child-centred revolution to the “spots and dots” of Kurt Rowland and the sub-Bauhaus reaction. (Though that has an ironic colouring, now that this low life government has wiped Art from the UK National Curriculum …) And a load more besides.school-art-booksIt’s all in the pipeline.

Homeric warfare: re-righting the Classics

The 'Betty' letters

The ‘Betty’ letters

As well as interesting marginalia, a bonus of buying second hand books is finding unexpected stuff tucked between pages, so I was chuffed recently on acquiring a set of the early ‘fifties poetry review Nine to find various fliers and cuttings hidden within, plus three letters to the original owner of the magazines from the classical scholar, translator and academic W F Jackson Knight (brother of literary critic Wilson Knight). One of these throws an interesting light on the methods of Nine and of its pugnacious and reactionary editor, the poet and self-appointed disciple of Ezra Pound, Peter Russell.

Eleven 'Nines'

Eleven ‘Nines’

The letters are to a “Betty”, probably an ex-student of Jackson Knight’s (though not, as I first thought, the classicist Betty Radice, later an editor at Penguin Classics). “JK”, as he signed himself, maintained a vast correspondence with ex-students and others, so it’s annoying but hardly surprising that my unidentified Betty makes no appearance in Wilson Knight’s exhaustive and exhausting 1975 biography of his brother, which I now plan to employ as a doorstop or flower press.

Much of the contents of the letters is shrill and slightly flirty chatter (JK never married), but in February 1950 he wrote to acknowledge a letter that Betty, who clearly had some close association with Nine, had inserted with a prospectus for the review:

“Naughty to put a letter in for 1d! How I liked it though. I wishd you were here.

Can I, if I subscribe, have the first issue of NINE? What chances to keep it going? Can you work together with The Wind and the Rain and be the Criterion, and get safer – you two the only two? What hope of getting hundreds and hundreds of my little friends into nine-print? No – only good ones, who deserve it – and only the pieces which should be printed. I don’t care about just another mag. I do care about the right one (prospectus looks good), which really serves the right causes and above all the divine niceness and brilliance of the sort of people you and I know who we mean by which. Grammar OK?”

'JK' in the early 'fifties

‘JK’ in the early ‘fifties

JK’s letters, wrote Wilson Knight, “drive the informality of epistolary writing to the limit.” No doubt Jackson Knight wrote as he spoke; it’s always a slight shock to realise that some people of a certain class really did talk like this. The Wind and the Rain, a rival literary review run by Neville Braybrooke, had recently printed a piece by Jackson Knight on his favourite author, Virgil. He did indeed go on to subscribe to Nine, to which he was also to make a single ill fortuned contribution. So was Nine to prove the right sort of mag, serving the right causes, and run by the right sort of people? Well, it was “right” in one sense.

“The Right is to-day, everywhere the Underground Resistance!” shouted Peter Russell in issue 2 of Nine. Reacting to what they saw as a poetic decade of undisciplined and introverted Leftist neo-romanticism, Russell and his editorial board – poets G S Fraser and Iain (later Ian) Fletcher, editor and classical translator Ian Scott-Kilvert and classical critic D S Carne-Ross, afterwards a Third Programme producer – banged the drum for a return to objectivity, order, tradition and form. In this post-war re-invigoration of the great literary tradition, translations from the Classics were to play their part. Even so, Nine was happy to print poems by Charles Madge, Ronald Duncan, George Barker and others positioned well outside its programme, though it was not always an unstrained fraternisation. For Russell, if not for his co-editors, these literary standards were of a piece with his maverick political rightism.

Peter Russell, drawn in 1950 by Wyndham Lewis

Peter Russell, drawn in 1950 by Wyndham Lewis

In the event, it wasn’t too long before the wheels fell off. Issue 1 of Nine had appeared in the Autumn of 1949. Oddly, all but one of the editorial board vanished abruptly from the title page after issue 7 of Autumn 1951, leaving Russell to manage the final four issues solo. What happened?

His ‘seventies collaborator William Oxley later recounted Russell’s version of the crash, given twenty years afterwards. Two highly unpleasant reviews by poet Roy Campbell, loose cannon and elder statesman of the maverick right, had “blown apart” the board; one of a book by Stephen Spender, the other of:

“… some translations done by an eminent professor of whom Campbell wrote: ‘We do not expect poetic talent from a translator, let alone a professor, but we are entitled to insist on elementary scholarship.’ The editorial board of Nine, apart from Russell himself, were ‘all aspiring professors looking for safe jobs in universities,’ and they refused to countenance the publication of Roy Campbell’s offensive review.”

This “offensive review”, of J B Trend’s translations from the Spanish of poems by Juan Ramon Jimenez, eventually appeared in Nine 9, with a note by Russell explaining that it had been rejected by “the then editorial board”, and first printed in The Catacomb, the scurrilously reactionary (and loss-making) review run by Campbell and his son-in-law Rob Lyle, but bailed out by Tate and Lyle sugar money – “catacombs financed by saccharine,” as Christopher Logue put it.

“Though it is difficult to imagine what literary motive can have prompted the publication of this book,” fumes Campbell, “the political motive sticks out a mile.” His “review” then veers off into the familiar Campbell rant about the Spanish Civil War, “gun-shy poets” such as Auden and Day Lewis, the Iron Curtain and so on. It’s not hard to see why the board had cold feet.

On top of all this Russell’s co-editors, their suspicions aroused by an unpaid printer’s bill, had accused him of having his hand in the till, while a fire destroyed the contents of Nine’s office in 1951, postponing issue 7. Thereafter frequent appeals for renewals of subscriptions couldn’t prevent disastrous delays to later numbers. Nine finally gave up the ghost in April 1956.

'... the MS was altered ...'

‘… the MS was altered …’

But there may have been other behind-the-scenes unpleasantnesses that contributed to its break-up and decline. One is disclosed by Jackson Knight in a later letter to “Betty”:

“Re P[eter] R[ussell] – I did draw back a little. I didn’t seem to be much wanted. And when I’d done something asked of me actually during a week end of hundreds of miles, arduously, the MS was altered to make me disapprove when I’d approved of something – rewritten. So I couldn’t sign it. I don’t know if it was printed. I’ve never had this happen in 33½ years otherwise. I am not cross. I know something of the literary fight and literary code. I just keep away when I can, having seen the way the wind blows. Yet I received a N[ine] actually today.”

The “something asked of me” was a review of half a dozen Penguin Classics translations; this did appear in Nine 6 (Winter 1950-51), but under the pseudonym “Classicus”. (Clearly Knight was never sent a copy.) The books he had reviewed included two prose versions by E V Rieu, co-founder and editor of Penguin Classics, Homer: The Iliad and Virgil: The Pastoral Poems. (Rieu’s previous, ground breaking Homer translation, The Odyssey, had been the opener for the series.)

The offending article

The offending article

Of the Virgil, “Classicus”/Jackson Knight approves most warmly: “ … as felicitous as any modern English prose version .. can be expected to be … The most fastidious reader … will find nothing to blame.” And “Classicus” even heads off the predictable charge of dumbing down: “If this is ‘culture for the masses’ – and I think it is – we must have more and more of it …” All the other books are thoroughly approved, except for one, Rieu’s Iliad.

Here his opinion appears inconsistently damning: “Homer is eminently rapid, eminently plain and direct, and eminently noble … Dr Rieu’s prose Iliad satisfies the first two conditions … but fails to satisfy the third. Of the supreme grandeur of his original he manages to convey very little …” And that’s about all “Classicus” has to say on the book. This has to be the section altered by Russell to censor Knight’s original, more generous approval of Rieu’s Iliad. But why?

In our post-Classics culture it’s not easy to appreciate just what was at stake, and how threateningly communistic Rieu’s approach might appear to some. As Sun Kyoung Yoon explains in a 2014 article in The Translator:

Rieu … translated Homer in an egalitarian spirit, in line with a trend which was gaining ground in the aftermath of the Second World War. To bring Homer to the widest possible range of readers, Rieu chose to transform his epics into novels … emphasising narratives and characters … his Odyssey, in particular, was a major landmark in popularising the Classics: the huge success of Rieu’s Penguin edition proved that Homer could be made accessible to anyone.

img_0005Popularised perhaps, but hardly popular with Peter Russell. In a stand-off between accessibility and “grandeur,” his elitist instincts knew no doubts. The issue of Nine that carried the censored review by “Classicus” also promised forthcoming numbers on Latin and Greek literature, “to re-establish creative contact with the past.” Translations were solicited that should not “sacrifice poetic vitality to accuracy, nor accuracy to poetic vitality.” For Russell, Rieu’s egalitarian translations met neither criterion. In the event these special numbers did not materialise; in humiliating Jackson Knight by tinkering politically with his review, Russell made sure of that.

But we are in Cold War territory here. And the fracture lines of the times were as liable to appear in the pages of the little magazines as anywhere else, as this minor classical spat demonstrates.

Recommended for use as an anvil

Recommended as a flower press

Jackson Knight died in 1964, his reputation as a scholar and a gent unblemished, apart from an enthusiasm for spiritualism that led him to consult the shade of Virgil himself to advise on his 1956 Penguin translation of The Aeneid, the “Supreme Poet” even dictating answers to JK’s questions directly in Latin to his medium Theo Haarhoff; in séances Virgil appeared to Haarhoff’s niece clad in his laurel crown.

Peter Russell died in 2003 after a long, hugely prolific and generally penniless career as a professional poet. His later work, under the influence of his “mentor” Kathleen Raine, moved away from the vaunted objectivism of the Nine years to a gushy, “vitalist” and often confessional Neoplatonism. His anticommunism never wavered.

‘A day is two halves’: Thomas Good’s ‘Carrion’

Thomas Good by Matthew Smith (detail)My recently posted profile of the sadly neglected but gratifyingly jagged poet Thomas Good (intro post here, also) mentions his contribution in the ‘thirties to that mammoth intercontinental compendium of the surreal and the Joycean, Eugene Jolas’s transition magazine. This turns out to be a short prose piece, published in the final issue, number 27 of 1938, among an assortment of texts grouped as “Hypnologues and Paramyths.” A note states that Good sent this from London, so it must have been written very shortly before his move to France after his breakdown in 1937. Curiously, this is the same issue of transition to which Terence White (aka Terence White Gervais) contributed. I should have tracked this down before, but here it is anyway and in due course I’ll add it to the Thomas Good pages above. It’s the earliest piece of his writing that I’ve yet found, by several years.

transitionFor me this chopped and feverish piece of automatism sits among the “hypnologues”. It’s striking that the earlier part echoes Good’s personal anxieties at the time, with its mentions of firm loins, a priest withholding absolution, Lazarus, an anchorite and so on. Yet the last two paragraphs contain a number of proper names (Mackenzie, Whipsnade, The Waste Land !!) that suggest some cut-up method using magazines or newspapers. However it was made, it certainly stretches the notion of narrative to screaming point, though it’s odd how quotable it is in places: “Each leg is severed for patent privacy …” Even aphoristic: “Benevolence is only one ounce in the kingdom of truth.”

Two possible typo’s: “cenotaur” in the middle of the first paragraph must surely be for “centaur,” and I have no idea what a “speehoo” might be in the final section, though a “speeho” is apparently an uproar in Scots.

When I first read this, I found myself feeling sorry for the baby ant which is castrated …

 

THOMAS GOOD

Carrion

Dry lanes he came through without sugar in stomach and temptation in coldness. He looked and called and no answer. He spoke and said: “You yellow cuckoo, only touch my bellysprings and you’ll find I’m randy enough. I’ll pink straight if they don’t leave me now, or when they hear my body crackle.” Not to speak of the apple-orchard and blossom to cover her. Firm loins broke his goose-step, and there were crazy children singing into his ears, asking him to murder them, because the priest withheld absolution. O, never will he stink yet until Easter, with seven lines crossing his brow, and if the five angels who sleep by Lazarus’s tomb have not kept quiet how much ranking will be in the bye-pass of Heaven. Now the twin-monster is harnessed to a star, and the bite of a tooth in her left breast. She saw the seven storms and breathed out gold-dust to the cenotaur. There was a crack in the eyeball and white men strangling a negro baby near the furnace. So I said: “Never answer while these bloodlips rouse stealth in the keeping of pig-sties. For benevolence is only one ounce in the kingdom of truth.” There were five pears adjacent to the snowdrop, and where the crane draws wheels, Satan made his meal of abdomens. Only the anchorite had any salt to his pie and left no sting in the serpent’s mouth. The acrostic was numerical and eleven bases of brimstone led to the gossamer pavement. Travelling by his side I heard the snapping of ribs, and demented stallions were exercising magnetism in shovelfuls by any road curious eaters may have taken. A day is two halves and few women have goat’s milk, but when two angry girls stripped the priest, he shaved his bones to sawdust. He said: “I’m in Chancery now and doubletwisted if Abel gives no quarter.” Now the discourse was ready to be given:

“O, lapwing in heaven of time carry a countenance of grim odour through the bays. Alias Mackenzie is a softer reef than a pinnacle and swallowed mud is no tether to a liaison. Fume in equal paces, left, left, right and left again, and tell no dead games in season by choking berries in Whipsnade. In streams of gloom two straps had soaked in steam. Dromedary counts steps to Druid arches and Clovis holds no distaff.”

Now I stand where no echo manipulates water, or trifle soothes brain-fag. I have asked in three-four time if Bartimaeus singed his tail in the waters of Eden, and if several apricots sit swaying in Gotha. Each leg is severed for patent privacy and eleven bends of the head strike the end of a season of chamber madness. In the court of the triremes Abjacus castrated his baby ant and an uncouth bandy-legged giant manoeuvres by firelight. We kept swaying through bedrock till the sweep of dunes left a billycock hat to signal where the tide had reached. Twenty fathoms below Ann’s curse, foul stench set jaws in motion, and, cleaning the stirrups, we plunged into the spume again. And so on. Until they sailed into the archer’s last ride and knocked twice into farthing spoons, all frosty in the daydream. This is the speehoo on hot drops when no cream spins round the hoop. Have you to beg on carrot roads or sweep stale ditches? Give five hoots by the pear-tin and send the scarab flying to the hatchway. Care for the two bitches lifting the curls from the rancid butter and no ginger will stand baking. For crying Smith will not bill The Waste Land and Joseph is stripping the muddle by the oak beams and clover.