The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English

By Ian Hamilton | Go to book overview

C

Calendar of Modern Letters, The. In 1933 F. R. Leavis, introducing a selection from the critical work in the Calendar of Modern Letters, said the approach could 'fairly be held up as a model for a critical journal'. Frank Kermode, reviewing a reissue of the journal many years later, called it a paradigm. Their praise does not seem exaggerated.

The Calendar lasted for no more than two- and-a-half years. It first appeared in March 1925 as a monthly, became a quarterly in April 1926, and closed its doors in July of the following year with 'A Valediction Forbidding Mourning', asserting the validity, not necessarily of all the work printed, but of the attitude behind the editorial choice: 'The value of a review must be judged by its attitude to the living literature of the time (which includes such works of the past as can be absorbed by the contemporary sensibility) and there should naturally be some homogeneity of view among the more regular contributors.'

Such homogeneity, more easily recognized than described, certainly marked the approach of the editors Edgell ⋆Rickword and Douglas Garman, and their chief coadjutor Bertram ⋆Higgins. It showed in an approach to imaginative writing that adopted no particular social or political stance, yet was aware that to consider any literary work outside the context of its time must leave a yawning gap of interpretation and some inadequacies of understanding. Both in their sympathies and their sharpness, the editors and their principal reviewers produced critical views of the best writing in the period that remain interesting and valid. What was something like corporate criticism can be seen at its finest in the 'Scrutinies' of established reputations that began to appear from the first number with Rickword on Barrie, and were later embodied in the two volumes of Scrutinies that gave Leavis a title for his periodical, Scrutiny.

The Scrutinies are not, however, the prime beauty of the Calendar, although it was an almost unerring critical sense that chose the fiction and poetry. The list of contributors reads like a roll- call of the best writers in that brief period, writing usually at the top of their form. ⋆ Lawrence 'The Princess', boldly run over three issues, stories by William Gerhardi, Mary Butts, Stephen Hudson, Liam O'Flaherty, and translations from Babel, Leonov, Pirandello, and Chekhov; Aldous ⋆Huxley on Breughel and long extracts from Wyndham ⋆Lewis The Lion and the Fox and The Dithyrambic Spectator; that long, curious comic poem 'The Marmosite's Miscellany' by Robert ⋆Graves masquerading as John Doyle, and poems by Laura Gottschalk (later ⋆ Riding) and Hart ⋆Crane, ⋆ Ransom, and ⋆ Tate, Americans then almost unknown in Britain.

Was it true, as Leavis suggested, that since the Calendar could not find support, 'what hope can there be for any serious critical journal?' The 'Valediction' does not say that the financial position enforces the periodical's closure, but that an unspecified 'different organization' is needed, which will avert the problem of having 'the leaks periodically stopped by a generous patron'. It says also that a '"political" attitude' might be economically helpful, although it would be 'an abuse of function'. It must surely be relevant that within a few years Garman had become a Communist Party functionary, and Rickword a very active sympathizer. A maga-

-80-

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The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Introduction v
  • Selection of Anthologies xi
  • Key to Contributors xiv
  • Alphabetical List of Contributors xvii
  • A 1
  • B 28
  • C 80
  • D 113
  • E 143
  • F 156
  • G 179
  • H 206
  • I 247
  • J 251
  • K 266
  • L 284
  • M 318
  • N 375
  • O 393
  • P 407
  • Q 436
  • R 437
  • S 468
  • T 533
  • U 555
  • V 557
  • W 562
  • Y 593
  • Z 599
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