An appalling affair! – An early critique of Dylan’s ‘New Verse’

Amongst the discarded cigarette packets, empty sweet wrappers and manuscripts underneath Dylan’s desk here at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive you will find a book that had upset Dylan in December 1934.

Published by Duckworth in late 1934, Aspects of Modern Poetry by Edith Sitwell was savagely critical of New Verse, a periodical ran by poet, novelist and critic Geoffrey Grigson. In her scathing review she used Dylan’s poem Our Eunoch Dreams, which had been published in New Verse in April 1934 as one of its bad examples. As an added insult she didn’t even mention the author of the piece by name!

She wrote…

‘An appalling affair! Metaphysics have not helped here. The idea is really of no importance, and the thick squelching, cloying, muddy substance of the “which,” “itch,” “shapes,” “starch,” “welshing rich” verse, and the equally, or almost equally hideous, “kicks,” “sack,” “trash,” “quick,” “cock,” “back,” “smack,” affair – these defeat criticism. In muddiness and incapacity, they leave T.E. Brown’s “God wot plot” arrangement at the starting post.’

Dylan wrote the following in a letter dated December 1934 to his friend and fellow writer and poet Glyn Jones

“So you’ve been reviewing Edith Sitwell’s latest piece of virgin dung, have you? Isn’t she a poisonous thing of a woman, lying, concealing, flipping, plagiarising, misquoting, and being as clever a crooked literary publicist as ever. I do hope you pointed out in your review the real points against the book (you did, I know, but I like being dogmatic) The majority of the book was cribbed from Herbert Read and Leavis, actually and criminally cribbed. She has misquoted Hopkins at least twenty times, reprinted many poems without the permission of the publisher or poet. Yes, that was my poem all right, reproduced without my name, misquoted at the end, and absurdly criticised. I duly sent my protest to Gerald Duckworth and he replied to the effect that so many protests of a similar sort had been received, that he could as yet do nothing about it. It is being hoped that he will have to withdraw the book.”

In less that a few months Dylan and Sitwell would change their respective tunes about one another. Fierce critic and fellow poet Edith Sitwell would become a patroness and champion of the young poet from Swansea…

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Published in: on 31 December, 2016 at 11:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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