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Tambimuttu on Poetry

Tambimuttu was a Ceylonese poet best known in England and America as a poetry editor. His full name was Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu. He was a great champion of poetry and poets, especially Dylan Thomas. Wikipedia says of him: 'Most of Tambimuttu's own works are difficult to access, and his earliest works published before he came to London are lost. His greatest influence was as an editor and publisher, especially during the 1940s.' Here he is writing on poetry in  his editorial/manifesto in the debut issue of Poetry early in 1939. The cover is by Hector Whistler.

FIRST LETTER

  I wish to take my stand and I start by restating a few fundamentals, well-known enough maybe, but which seem to have been lost in the ramifications of modem thought and to need restatement for the purpose of this magazine.

  Every man has poetry within him. Poetry is the awareness of the mind to the universe. It embraces everything in the world.

  Of poetry are born religions, philosophies, the sense of good and evil, the desire to fight diseases and ignorance and the desire to better living conditions for humanity.

Poetry is the connection between matter and mind. Poetry is universal.

  Poetry is not individual. It exists as a whole in the universal mind. It is a universal force and like God it can never be discovered, although it will always be present directing thought.

  It can never be discovered, because it is a large universal thing and a man would have to write a hundred paragraphs at the same instant with a hundred hands in order to represent it truly.

  For the instant a man starts to write, he ceases to live. Before he began he had the universe in him, but the very moment he put pen to paper he went into a tiny coil of intellectualization and became only partially alive.

  It is this fact that the surrealists wanted to teach, but they intellectualized even this simple fact and made it into a system to discover the great force Poetry that cannot be intellectually discovered.
Life and the understanding of it is surrealist, but writing about it is intellectual. Therefore it is futile to practise surrealism purposively. The very nature of it defeats its ends.

  Surrealism is not a new thing, since it has always existed. It has always influenced creative activity, but to know it one has to give up all cruder attributes. To think surrealistically, spontaneously, and entirely–that is without sacrificing large portions of the mind, one would be forced to develop a finer sensibility and like the yogis dispense with cruder forms of expression, for instance the writing of poetry. At any rate, the results of the surrealist movement have shown us that the mental equipment of mankind is not yet perfect enough to practise surrealist thought. If we should ever achieve the perfection necessary to understand it, which is possible only as a hypothesis, it would be because we had persevered in our traditional form of thought.*
  * An analogy that lends point to this statement–a few years ago cowboy films were not considered to be unreal or ridiculous ; but to-day people perceive these elements in them merely because they persevered to be within the reality of these films until they grew out of it, and are now able to see it objectively.

  I have said that poetry is not individual and that one man could not analyse or formulate it.

  Although a fine intellect may see the whole of poetry with its inner light, the effort of translating this vision into words splits it and only a part of the vision is transmitted. Man can transmit only part of a whole vision at a given instant.

  But by the reception of many different expressions of poets, a mind that has not already felt the whole truth is educated to feel it. This is one of the uses of written poetry, to educate every man into this consciousness.

  No man is small enough to be neglected as a poet. Every healthy man is a full vessel, though vessels are of different sizes. In a poetry magazine we can only take account of those sizes of vessels which represent humanity as a whole.

  From these premises it is evident that poetry is an altogether bigger thing than the intellect. The Being or soul could accommodate Poetry in an undividedness, but not the average intellect.

  Vision in the Being is life. Intellectualization is only half the truth. But many half truths assembled in Being may be a true image of truth.

  Since it is only through the intellect that writing is possible, the intellect is useful. But the intellect should not override Life, Being, Poetry. The intellect is a very inefficient medium between life and its expression. Intellectualization removes us further from life. Pure intellectualization is death.

  Reality in life is simple. Life is simple, living is simple, the roots of thought are simple. It is only intellectualization that is complex.

  Complexity is a very unreal thing ; simplicity is the only reality. By complexity I mean, not what every man cannot understand, but an abstruse theory unrelated to life.

  The criticism of certain reviewers is unrelated to life; it is the manifestation of the emasculated public-school mind, where many of the natural human faculties are warped or even destroyed. Such a mind is a diseased mind. Its proper place is in a psycho-analytical clinic, not in the criticism of poetry.

  The man who decries the praise of beauty or love is a pervert, an intellectual, a more than dead rabbit. Bury him.

  Criticism is only valuable when it originates from life; that is, when it takes into consideration the whole fact of living. Criticism from certain angles, that is, abstractions, should be considered as such. They should not be imposed on humanity as new moralities that can satisfactorily order and interpret life to us.

  A world without love or beauty is a disordered world. (Speaking basically, there is no ugliness in the universe, since its conception varies with each individual; beauty simply means religion and purposiveness of desire. This emphasizes the need of a religion or a set of assimilations in a man. Beauty for Hitler or Stalin or Confucius may be the ordering of society in a particular way. Personalities control physical life and personality can be good or evil. Each man should therefore determine for himself the nature of a personality before subjecting himself to its influence.)

  If criticism has its origin in life, very little adverse criticism on modem poets need be written (if we reserve the term poet for a man who possesses a certain standard of Being and expression). Each poet is a leaf, a significant leaf, of Poetry, the multifoliate tree.

  All manifestations of life are interesting; it is contrast that teaches us the nature of truth. Classicism, Romanticism, orthodoxy, heterodoxy are all necessary things and should grow together, and quite healthily, if man is going to be educated into his final more perfect consciousness.

  But the glorification of one of these for its own sake, as the whole truth, and its acceptance by an uncritical mind, leads to confusion and partial mental atrophy.

  It is not the glorification of a part of Being as the whole that I object to ; such a state is indeed inevitable in a creative artist. But I certainly do object to its acceptance by critics who thereafter endeavour to dope all humanity with it.

  The function of a critic should be to point out to what extent a poet's work is a half truth.

  Dylan Thomas is a great poet and he glorifies a thoroughly personal form of analysis and exposition.
The creative artist is justified in doing this when the form is born of an inner necessity in himself. But many of the younger poets make Dylan Thomas' necessity theirs too, when the work they produce shows plainly that they have uncritically wedded their minds to an attractive 'idea’ where it continues to jar and hamper their expression. I have printed one or two of these poets in this issue. I hope the will soon sift themselves from Dylan Thomas.

  I do not say that Dylan Thomas' necessity could not be another's. I merely point out that I have not yet recognized the Thomas-necessity in any of his imitators. I shall write more on this subject on another occasion.

  Every poet is a culmination of influences. He is a culmination, not merely one of the influences. In other words he does not disturb his natural culmination with the deliberate apposition of another man's Being on his own to an unreasonable extent.

  One may question whether it is possible to determine if a man is his own natural culmination or not. This is only possible by comparing him with others. All values are arrived at by comparison.

  Walter de la Mare, Clifford Dyment, W. H. Davies, Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice and Dylan Thomas are natural culminations. When the culminations are of the same type there are of course differences in stature.

  Some of the others like Nicholas Moore, yet an undergraduate, Laurence Clark and Maurice Rowdon show that they are healthy; but we expect them to digest more influences in order to culminate significantly.

  Others, like Philip O'Connor (a clever caricaturist) or Dorian Cooke (who in a riot of imagery can see things clearly, but refuses to) hide a significant self underneath a mass of alien influences that ought to be scraped away.

  Gavin Ewart's poem in this number marks his breaking away from the Auden influence (which I must say he had digested) and his beginning an apprenticeship with Spender, an important point in favour of Gavin Ewart, for it shows that he is aware of opposites, and that he is not one to be isolated in an intellectual rut.


  I have mentioned that living is really simple. Men should realize that all social problems can be solved on a very simple basis.

  When disordered minds raft at simplicity, it is because they are disordered. Let every man look at his navel for a time each day and find out his own nature, his wants, the feelings that go to make him and his reactions to fundamental things like oppression and libertinism.

  If he knew himself, he would know what would be his reactions to different circumstances. He would then be the touchstone to the goodness or evil in the world.

  He would know that his primary wants were freedom in thought and action, justice, order, love, entertainment and a presence of beauty. He would then be able to accept or reject political doctrines by deciding whether they were the negation of liberty and of the human factor or not.

  The trouble with the modern world is that it has no real beliefs or religion. Poetry is religion. Poetry makes the world tangible to us and enables us to preserve order in it.

  Poetry may prepare the way for better polities, but it is not entirely political propaganda, as the Stalinists conceive it. Poetry is a descent to the roots of life.

  Modem men do not face reality. They do not face themselves. They fight away from simple statements and feelings. It is fashionable to be complex, dead, to appear confused, be unsure about everything, be negative. Because of the influx of many different theories into the world, they imagine that they should show an awareness to all of them, so they affect confusion and are negative. Men should be positive, alive.

  The circular that we issued a short while ago announced that this magazine would be an 'Enquiry into Modem Verse'. I hope that I have preserved the true spirit of an enquiry in this issue by printing the different types of poetry being written to-day, each of which has its own particular significance. Many of the poems may seem 'difficult’ to the reader, but I may mention that much of the complexity is derived from the nature of the contents, and that the reader would find a careful study very profitable. In this context I may recommend for study the extract from Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice and Stephen Spender's "Variations on my Life," published in this issue, which are effective pictures of the post-war man struggling for spiritual recovery. In certain poems the difficulty is due to metaphysical conceits, without any apparent purpose, but mental acrobatics, in which the writer imitates another man in whom this technique was born originally of an inner necessity. I propose to write on this subject on another occasion.

  The four poems by Lawrence Durrell and Nicholas Moore, and the "Sonnet" by Maurice Rowdon also plead, as I have, that life and living are really simple, and not so complex as the many different theories about them would make us believe. These are some of the younger poets writing to-day. Lawrence Durrell for instance writes, "the curious sea . . . swings in the heart of things to dumb our volumes of philosophy".

  I feel that an introduction to Dylan Thomas's poem may not be out of place.

  It describes the feelings of a man, in his father's house on the sea-shore, expecting the birth of a child to his wife. Under the stress of expectation he notices the landscape, spasmodically, and the words he uses to describe his feelings show us that he is conscious of things around him hitting and hurting him (chucked bells; wound-down cough; puzzle in a bed of sores; bullies into rough seas you so gentle). Also that he sees violence everywhere (the stained fiats of heaven hit and razed; whirring featherlands; wind-heeled foot in the hole of a fireball; cut Christbread spitting vinegar and all; flames and shells). After the birth of the child he realizes that agony has another mouth to feed and that bad economic conditions have "already murdered" the child: finally he praises all these sensations he has felt, because of this experience in his life:


"Cry joy that this witchlike midwife second
Bullies into rough seas you so gentle."

  The poems in this magazine have been arranged in unnumbered groups, not with a particular view to classifying them, but to facilitate their communication to the general reader. No doubt common qualities are present within these groups. It must, however, be remembered that the place a poet occupies in these groups is only arbitrary in relation to the bulk of his writings.
Tambimuttu



THE MARCH ISSUE OF
POETRY
(LONDON)

WILL CONTAIN





The Human Situation:
A LONG POEM


BY

STEPHEN SPENDER


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