A welcome new judge this week: the poet Sylvia Lynd, whom you can see here. She has an amusing, slightly acerbic style, and also a fairness in her judging which I admire (she is the wife of the New Statesman star columnist Y.Y. or Robert Lynd). But first we must imagine the poet T.E. Casson receiving his copy of The Week-End Review, turning, as I imagine it, straight to the competition pages on which his name has featured perhaps twenty-five or thirty times, without his ever obtaining so much as a crooked sixpence. Proxime does not describe how close he has been to the weekend reward. And today, before he has even had a chance to spot that he is not only an also-ran in 45A but also that he has been viciously mis-spelt as ‘Carson’, he will have seen that his name, in capitals, occurs at the end of an entry in 45B. He has won! Let us hope that this scene did not take place, although I fear that it did. He has in fact been given the honour of being printed because his entry was so good it very nearly, really very nearly won. In fact, it has struck Sylvia Lynd as ‘delightfully amusing’. But it has attracted no dosh whatever.
45A requires writing a poem to offer condolences or congratulations to Prosperpina on the ever-earlier arrival of spring flowers in London (it’s February, by the way). Lynd is genuinely surprised to receive more poems, that is, more entries to 45A than to 45B, which requires a confession. ‘Evidently,’ she remarks, ‘it is easier to write verse than to tell the truth.’ However, many of the ‘charming’ poems aren’t following her guidelines. In fact, there are only nine she’s prepared to consider. She gets it down to three, and splits two guineas between the top two, W. Hodgson Burnet (him again!) and H.C.M (ditto), with the second prize going to H.W.Williams.
I have to admit that the word ‘foison’ is never a good sign to me. But we have to recognise that The Week-end Review (and indeed the New Statesman and Nation) readership very conserrvative by our standards when it came to literary forms, especially in poetry. Or rather, I should say that any perception we have that writers like Eliot and Pound commanded an enthusiastic readership in 1930/1931 is a false perception. The same is also true of poets like Owen, by now over a decade dead (Yeats had excluded Owen from the Oxford Book of English Verse and called him ‘a revered sandwich-board man for the revolution’ and his poetry not only not fit for the poet’s corner of a Sunday magazine but also ‘all blood, dirt and sucked sugar-stick’). However, the second prize that Lynd gives is to a welcome and sardonic effort:
45B is a distinctly odd competition. Competitors have to imagine themselves at a small party where they play a game of truth (evidently what the Lynds and their friends did!) and relate in turn a ludicrous, frightening or flattering incident out of personal experience. It’s a little ambiguous, as set, but it’s plain that Lynd wanted a bit of truth-telling (even though she would have had no way of checking). Lynd not only divides the prize money again (in effect, the two first prizes therefore equal the second, at a half-a-guinea each) but also decides to print a competition entry that breaks the rules, because it’s not personal. It gets an airing, but no money. Yes: Casson. Here he is (it’s not that great!)
And here are the winners – Alice Herbert, J.B.H.Doyle and (technically a second prize) S. Barrington Mclean. Alice Herbert is the novelist who wrote From Heaven To Charing Cross (1928) and several other novels. She was born Alice Baker in 1859, and married Walter Humboldt Loewe, a Hungarian who anglicised his name to Low. When he died in 1895, she married a Lt. Col. James Alexander (‘Sandy’) Herbert, who worked in the British Museum, and was an expert on illuminated manuscripts. She lived in Hampstead. Her daughter Ivy Low married Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet Foreign Minister from 1918, and a great survivor – he was still in favour after the war. Alice Herbert died in 1942.
Sylvia Lynd cannot stop herself suggesting that Mr. Barrington McLean was having his leg pulled when it came to the flattery.