April 7 1976
The Times Higher Education Supplement
New Printing House Square
London WC1 8EZ England
I come late with this letter on Mr. Edwin Morgan’s review of A. T. Tolley’s The Poetry Of The Thirties in your issue of March 5; friends in England, finding mention of me in the review, have brought it to my notice. Mr. Morgan judges Mr. Tolley to have been remiss in not paying regard to my poetic work, pronouncing my Collected Poems of 1938 to have been “one of the most remarkable volumes of the decade”. He somewhat excuses Mr. Tolley for the omission: “But it might have been difficult to fit them in”—the other being Hugh MacDiarmid. As to myself, the only reason I can think of for difficulty in fitting me in is the embarrassment of taking previous space from the treatment of poets of whom literary convenience has substituted its work-list of the Thirties for honor-doing to one whose poetic work and critical thinking, from the latter part of the Twenties to the closing time of the Thirties, were for the most part churlishly sidelined while being drawn upon extensively for their uses.
The compulsive sense of critical obligation to give as much precious space to W. H. Auden as possible, by which both Mr. Tolley and Mr. Morgan are affected, necessarily reduces the likelihood of there being any, or more than a trifle of, space for reference to my work. Mr. Morgan finds room in his review for no more than the characterization “one of the most remarkable”, which leaves the matter to the next generous fellow; to Auden he gives a quarter-part of the space of his review, lamenting in part of this that in a “historical approach”, such as Mr. Tolley’s, in which some others must have justice done to their work, not enough justice can be done to Auden. It is to be deduced, however, that Mr. Morgan, no more than Mr. Tolley, had in mind as to what ideally befits, in the matter of space, “an important poet like Auden”, an account of the educative process to which Auden submitted himself, in his application to successive publications of work of mine, from 1926 onward into within the limits of the next decade, by dint of which what Mr. Morgan calls his “Englishness” liberated itself from snooty radical politicism to a progressively linguistic, rhetorical, and emotionally intellectual and industrious revisional ascent to a plane of urbane universality of poetic and poetico-philosophic conversationality. If one got that far in doing justice to his single history, one could hardly stop before pointing out that, while keeping the model that changed his life within a private workmanlike reaching of tongue and mind, he kept faith with the dramatic character of new poetic Everyman publicly bestowed on his new-born Anglo-American self.
I am respectfully,
Laura (Riding) Jackson