In spite of what arriviste critics tell us, good, even great writers are lost in the cracks in every generation, and we must always ask ourselves if we have chosen to be a society too smug to indulge such a humble notion. It is for this reason alarming to see literary agents, editors and critics take refuge in the self-serving lie that what deserves to be published is published.
But as the means to publish expand and new technologies evolve, the critical apparatus is unable and unwilling to keep up. Many good works are ignored. The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley said of critics that they reflect the ignorance of the age. I find this amusingly harsh. I owe much to critics for directing me to worthy books. But the odor of truth lingers about Shelley's observation.
There are some writers in every genre—I would extend this to the plastic arts—who by nature touch so many raw nerves that even when editors and critics see merit in their work they decline the work because it has nicked them in some vulnerable place. With luck, such writers and artists may find the one advocate whose commitment to creativity surpasses his or her vulnerability to disturbing insights.
One of the most challenging literary events of the last decade which took place in Athens was undoubtedly the lecture of Nadine Gordimer. It was a memorable experience to hear this tiny, silver haired lady speak with a soft but steady voice of some of her country’s unsolved problems: analphabetism and semi-alphabetism, poverty, racism, the transition from the racist regime to the democratic state,
The liturgical round of the Christian church—whether Orthodox, Roman or Anglican—has inspired some of the best poetry ever written. The Book of Common Prayer, written by Thomas Cranmer, priest-confessor to Elizabeth I, contains some of the most elegant poetry in the English language, and late in the last century the Anglican poet, W.H. Auden, participated in a modernization of that work.
‘Everybody Sang’ is Sassoon’s most famous poem, and according to some critics, supposedly written in celebration of Armistice Day, 1919, just before he found out that his friend Wilfred Owen had died in the last week of fighting. Sassoon had been treated for shell shock and war neurosis in one of the UK’s most experimental war trauma facilities, the psychiatric unit at Craiglockhart, and had sustained physical wounds during his time at the Western Front.