Although there were plenty of reasons not to respond to J.C.’s piece in the TLS, we eventually decided that a letter to the editor was justified, not least because J.C. had basically denied that anyone could possibly enjoy the CLR’s poetry, or poetry like it. This is absurd: of course it’s hard to pin down a common cause or even aesthetic, but there is a huge and somehow coherent group of poets, critics and readers out there—one that we’ve happily stumbled into and that has made the CLR welcome. Not without challenging it; just taking it seriously, welcoming it.
So, in today’s TLS, there is the following letter, under the heading ‘Plain speaking’:
Sir, – “No effort of imagination”, writes J. C. (NB, July 16), “enables us to conjure a reader or an interlocutor who would welcome the self-alienation of the Infinite Difference poets” – that is to say, of the poets we publish in the Cambridge Literary Review. We do indeed welcome such poetry; are we therefore unimaginable? The truth J. C. denies is that there is a diverse and engaged readership for the CLR, not to mention for the many longer-running and better established journals and publishers – Barque Press, the Chicago Review, and so on – whose tastes and remit are similar.
J. C. also points out that we described his writing as “witty analysis”. But there we were wrong. It is neither witty nor is it strictly speaking analysis to present an extract of someone’s work followed by a weak rhetorical flourish. Rather, it is an attempt to humiliate the author under consideration. By merely reprinting segments of work in which he plainly has no interest, J. C. implicitly and explicitly denies that anyone else ought to want to read it. His stance seems to be that only plain-speaking poetry is of any literary value.
The fact that the mainstream literary press is behind the times has no bearing on the countless exchanges about the poetry J. C. derides that spring up on blogs and email lists, and in the readings that happen on a weekly basis in Manchester, Cambridge, Brighton, London, etc. Yet it remains disappointing. It is disappointing, too, that someone with such a prominent outlet should sit in judgement on poetry he himself claims not to understand. This is a basic logical fallacy; more than that, it is an attempt to undermine a segment of poetry that is already thriving.
BORIS JARDINE AND LYDIA WILSON
Cambridge Literary Review, Trinity Hall, Cambridge.