Notes from a Preview Meeting
Edited, with an Introduction and Notes, by Dean Irvine
Among his papers at the National Archives of Canada, F. R. Scott deposited a scribbler with the notes from a meeting of the Preview group.1 Dated March 13, 1944, these notes consist of a group discussion among the Montreal-based little magazine’s editors: Patrick Anderson, P. K. Page, Bruce Ruddick, Neufville Shaw, A. M. Klein, and Scott himself. According to another Preview-related document called "Rules of the Game," the editors were to "meet regularly during the second and fourth week of every month"; these notes would have been taken at "the first or open meeting . . . for general discussion, post-mortem on the last issue, reading of mss if desired, and sweet intercourse." The "second or closed meeting" was reserved for "final choice of mss for [the] next issue, details of publication, etc."2 Meetings were held in Montreal at either Scott’s home in Westmount or at the Andersons’ apartment behind Dorchester Street (present-day René-Lévesque Boulevard) (Anderson, "Conversation" 53). Founding members of the group had started to cross paths in Montreal between the fall of 1940 and the fall of 1941, with Scott, Anderson, Ruddick, Shaw, and Margaret Day first gathering at Scott’s place in early 1942 to organize Preview’s inaugural, March 1942 issue. After Anderson invited Page to a Preview meeting, she joined the group in advance of the second, April 1942 issue.3 Day left the group after the third issue,4 and other changes in membership would follow. The presence of both Shaw and Klein at the March 1944 meeting is itself significant and indicative of transformations taking place in the group at the time: Shaw’s name disappeared from the cover of the magazine as of the October 1943 issue (no. 16) and Klein’s first appeared on the cover as of the March 1944 issue (no. 19). The March 1944 meeting may, therefore, have been Klein’s first as an official member of the Preview group, though he had already submitted some poems and met with the group on occasion prior to accepting the invitation to become an editor of Preview (Caplan 95). Shaw’s return to the group after a several-month absence may be attributed to the agenda of the meeting itself: a retrospective discussion of the manifesto "Statement" of the Preview group that was published in the March 1942 issue (no. 1).5Among the members unaccounted for in these notes are two women and wives of editors who, as Patrick Anderson put it, "were extremely important behind the scenes"—Kit Shaw and Peggy Anderson (Introduction iii). Kit Shaw handled subscriptions and submissions through the first fifteen issues,6 while Peggy Anderson managed production work for Preview from the first to the last issue.7 Kit Shaw’s and Peggy Anderson’s absences from this document are emblematic of their invisibility in the literary-historical record of Preview. Whatever its lacunae may signify, this brief document is the only extant set of notes from any Preview meeting.
At the March 1944 meeting, the discussion was not a post-mortem of the previous issue—as was apparently customary at open meetings—but a retrospective on Preview during its first two years of publication. Patrick Anderson’s reading of the "Statement" that opens the meeting is appropriate, since he is generally acknowledged to be the author of the unsigned Preview editorials (Trehearne 357). Rather than initiate a revision of the original manifesto, however, Anderson launches a debate among the members of the group concerning issues of cultural nationalism and internationalism. Opposed to the cultural nationalism promoted by former supporters of international socialism, among them Van Wyck Brooks and Archibald MacLeish, Anderson first reiterates the group’s disavowal of such isolationist ideologies and later, in defence of his position, advocates the integration of internationalism and nationalism in Canadian literary culture. Klein’s response to Anderson’s critique of Brooks and MacLeish questions whether the original Preview group was, despite its own claims to the contrary, similarly caught up in a cultural-nationalist ideology. Scott, however, emerges as a defender of Preview and of cultural nationalism; his perspective is nationalist in that he denies any American influence on the Preview poets, claims some essential distinction between American and Canadian poetry, and points to the group’s intention to meet in order to discuss the problems of poetry’s production, circulation, and audience (or lack thereof) in Canada. Scott’s responses to both Shaw and Ruddick also serve to advance a nationalist agenda. Page is somewhat reticent on the issue, suggesting only that the poet’s environment necessarily plays a role in the composition of a poem. Closing the discussion of cultural nationalism, Scott playfully alludes to an "essential national quality" of Canadian poetry, namely the "moosiness" of the moose (Djwa 214). Scott’s ludic phrase is, if only in jest, a Canadian variant of the typically modernist tendency toward defamiliarization in language: instead of making the stone "stony," the Canadian modernist poet should make the moose "moosey." The implications of Scott’s comment are that either an essential nationalist mode of expression in Canadian poetry never had emerged or that such symbolic expression of "Canadianness" had ossified into cliché.
From questions of Canadian content the conversation shifts to questions of Canadian audiences. Rather than reassert its internationalism, Anderson is the first to concede that the Preview group had not yet secured a wide audience, even in Canada. According to Anderson, this is the reader’s problem, which he would later call "the problem of communication and of the reader’s critical attitude" and attempt to rectify by publishing "An Explanatory Issue" (no. 18) in September 1944 with prose commentaries as headnotes to poems by the Preview group (Anderson, "Explanatory" 1). Page more cautiously observes that it is not poetry in general but poetry written by the Preview group in particular that troubles the "average" reader. Such modern poetry, Scott contends, alienates the unaccustomed reader; there is, as yet, no communication between the modern poet and the public. As modern poets, he believes, the members of the Preview group are progressive; their modernism necessitates a break with an older order of values (and an older poetics) still observed by a conservative Canadian public. Indeed, the group had not yet devised a successful means to communicate its poetry to the general public. Scott and Anderson ascribe this communication gap between poet and public to the obscurity of their poetry, a typically modernist quality they claim to be unavoidable for the contemporary poet. Klein, however, suggests that this situation presents an aporia: that the modern poet’s social empathy with the public is negated by his or her modernist poetics. Though his own poetry is by no means a model, he suggests that the modern poet should move toward plain language if the subject of a poem invites public audience. Scott, in response, asserts that the public must be willing to move as well—toward some comprehension of modern modes of poetic expression. Yet his insistence that the public accommodate itself to new modes and standards of poetry seems to preclude any education of Preview’s readers, contrary to the pedagogical approach later instituted by Anderson ("An Explanatory Issue"). These considerations of a public audience indicate the social value that the Preview group assessed for itself and the social function that they believed poetry could fulfil.
That the group hoped to publish the proceedings of this meeting in order to provoke a response speaks to its self-appointed public role. Discontented with its isolation from public culture, the Preview group considered its debate on issues of poetic nationalism and modernism material for general consumption. Perhaps it is telling that these notes were never transcribed and published, even if only in Preview itself. The closed format of this meeting is indicative of the communication problems encountered by the Preview group. Like the little magazine that it produced, its discussion of modern poetry in relation to national and public culture was restricted to a limited audience.
The group’s ambivalence about its audience is amply demonstrated by Preview’s publication history. The Preview group originally intended to produce only six issues, declaring its publication "no magazine" in the first issue (Anderson, et al, "Statement") and, in the fourth issue, a "private ‘Literary letter,’ distributed to about a hundred subscribers or potential subscribers, and . . . in no sense a ‘magazine’ on sale to the general public" (Anderson, "Note" [June 1942]).8 At the same time, the editors were eager to make contact with national and international writing movements (Anderson, et al, "Statement") and share news of their correspondence with internationally respected editors such as George Dillon of Poetry, James Laughlin of New Directions, and Cyril Connolly of Horizon (Anderson, "Note" [June 1942]). After sending out a questionnaire in August 1942 with the sixth issue, the editors must have received sufficient response from its then "eighty subscribers" to warrant continued publication (Anderson, "Note" [Aug. 1942]), deciding to change the periodical’s format from a single-stapled newsletter mimeographed on Preview letterhead to a side-stapled magazine with mimeographed content pages and printed covers. Although replies to its questionnaire are not extant, the Preview group’s subsequent investment in higher production values was most likely implemented as a result of feedback from current subscribers and, moreover, as an expedient means to attract a new ones. But even with subscriptions at their highest estimates, Preview could never claim to circulate among the general public, despite its editors’ assiduous efforts to broaden its readership.9 After changing its format in September 1942, Preview seems to have increased its modest circulation and, in any case, continued for another seventeen issues, its twenty-third and final installment appearing in early 1945.
If the Preview group was genuinely concerned with its reception by a wider Canadian public, then John Sutherland’s March 1945 proposal to consolidate the rival Montreal little magazines First Statement and Preview must have presented a partial solution to the problems that the members of Preview had discussed at their meeting a year earlier. The erratic publication of Preview during the year following the March 1944 meeting signalled that the group was, at that time, in a period of decline prior to the merger with First Statement.10 Like Preview, the First Statement group had encountered financial difficulties during 1944, forcing them to miss two months of publication and then to move from a monthly to a bi-monthly schedule. With the loss of the Shaws after the October 1943 issue, the departure of Page to Victoria in the fall of 1944, and the involvement of the Andersons in editorial and production work for the leftist cultural magazine En Masse by early 1945,11 members of the Preview group had also become otherwise and elsewhere occupied. Even though the addition of James Wreford in Hamilton as a "contributing editor" in the May 1944 issue (no. 20) (Anderson, "Editors’ Note") and the relocation of Page to Victoria expanded the geographical base of Preview, their distance from the Montreal group prevented them from taking part in the editorial meetings and the physical production of the magazine. This broadening of Preview’s editorial base gestured toward a national audience but, in the end, failed to satisfy the group’s desire to ameliorate its readership. So the amalgamation of Preview with First Statement to form Northern Review in June 1945 seems to have stemmed from a common interest, both in combining their human and financial resources and in expanding their audience at a national level.12 Sutherland’s proposal to found "a national literary magazine" offered the Preview group a new forum in Northern Review to disseminate its poetry and poetics to a wider Canadian public (Sutherland to the Editors of Preview, 27 March 1945; Letters 23). For its first five issues at least, Northern Review would realize in its editorial organization and its contents the integration of nationalism and internationalism that the Preview group had advocated for a modernist magazine culture in Canada.
Notes to the Introduction
I have transcribed the notes from holograph as they appear in the original scribbler. Ampersands (&), used in shorthand in the original, I have expanded to full words ("and") throughout. Otherwise, emendations and additions to the notes appear inside square brackets. Where abbreviated names are used to identify speakers in the original, I have replaced these with full surnames.
I am grateful to D. M. R. Bentley and I. S. MacLaren for helpful editorial recommendations. To P. K. Page I would like to offer my gratitude for allowing me to make this conversation among the Preview editors public. As well, I would like to give thanks to Mr Sandor Klein and Mr Colman Klein, Ms Jennifer Whitby, and Mr William Toye for their generous permission on behalf of A. M. Klein, Patrick Anderson, and F. R. Scott.
March 13, 1944
What’s the subject of our discussion[?]
Anderson We want to take the original statement in Preview, March 1942, and see what changes we feel ought to be made in it. (Reads)1
This is no magazine. It presents five Montreal writers who recently formed themselves into a group for the purpose of mutual discussion and criticism and who hope, through these selections, to try out their work before a somewhat larger public.
As the group takes shape, it becomes clear that general agreement exists on several points. Among them are the following. First, we have lived long enough in Montreal to realize the frustrating and inhibiting effects of isolation. All anti-fascists, we feel that the existence of a war between democratic culture and the paralysing forces of dictatorship only intensifies the writer’s obligation to work. Now, more than ever, creative and experimental writing must be kept alive and there must be no retreat from the intellectual frontier—certainly no shoddy betrayal, on the lines of Archibald MacLeish, Van Wyck Brooks and others, of those international forces which combine in a Picasso, a Malraux or a Joyce. Secondly, the poets amongst us look forward, perhaps optimistically, to a possible fusion between the lyric and didactic elements in modern verse, a combination of vivid, arresting imagery and the capacity to "sing" with social content and criticism.
Thirdly, we hope to make contact, as a group, with new creative writing movements in England, the United States and other parts of Canada. We will welcome such contributions as space and the aims expressed above permit. We have envisaged from the start a gradually [sic] widening of our group to about twice its present size. And may we add that you can receive six issues of "preview" for the sum of fifty cents, mailable to any of us.]
That statement is rather glib and experience has not borne out the views.
When P[review] started, we wanted a group to criticize their work[—m]utual discussion and criticism. [It h]as not been that so much as a group concerned with bringing out a magazine.
The "isolation" was of an artist to another. Also we opposed Brooks[’s] and M[a]cLeish[’s] "isolation."
Anderson, Patrick. "A Conversation with Patrick Anderson." With Seymour Mayne. Inscape 11.3 (1974): 46–79.
——. "Editors’ Note." Preview 20 (1944): 4.
——. "An Explanatory Issue." Preview 21 (1944): 1–3.
——. Introduction. Preview. Fascim. ed. Millwood, ny: Kraus, 1980. iii–v.
——. "Note." Preview 4 ([June] 1942): 1.
——. "Note." Preview 15 ([Aug.] 1943): 12.
——. "Note." Preview 18 ([Feb.] 1944): 10.
——. "The preview Fund." Insert. Preview 17 (1943).
——. Search Me: Autobiography—The Black Country, Canada and Spain. London: Chatto and Windus, 1957.
——, et al. "Statement." Preview 1 (1942): 1.
——. ed. The Victory Broadsheet 1. Montreal: Cambridge P, 1943.
Bentley, D. M. R. and Michael Gnarowski, ed. "Four of the Former Preview Editors: A Discussion." In "Three Documents from F. R. Scott’s Personal Papers." Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 4 (1979): 93–119.
Caplan, Usher. Like One That Dreamed: a Portrait of A. M. Klein. Toronto: McGraw– Hill Ryerson, 1982.
Djwa, Sandra. The Politics of the Imagination: a Life of F. R. Scott. Toronto: McClelland, 1987.
Dorothy Livesay Papers. A. Arch 2024. Queen’s University Archives, Kathleen Ryan Hall, Queen’s U.
Earle Birney Papers. MC 49. Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, U of Toronto.
F. R. Scott Papers. MG 30 D211. National Archives of Canada, Ottawa.
Gnarowski, Michael. "New Facts and Old Fictions: Some Notes on Patrick Anderson, 1945 and En Masse." Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 6 (1980): 61–8.
McKnight, David. "An Annotated Bibliography of Canadian Little Magazines: 1940–1980." ma thesis. Concordia U, 1992.
Miriam Waddington Papers. MG 31 D54. National Archives of Canada, Ottawa.
O’Rourke, David. "Preview." In The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature. 2nd ed. Ed. Eugene Benson and William Toye. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1997. 969.
Patrick Anderson Papers. MG 30 D 177. National Archives of Canada, Ottawa.
Page, P. K. Interview. With Dorothy Livesay. Provincial Archives of British Columbia, Sound and Moving Images Division, Victoria. Item 1620.
——. Letter to author. 9 August 2000.
——. "P. K. Page: a Biographical Interview." With Sandra Djwa. Malahat Review 117 (1996): 33–54.
P. K. Page Papers. MG 30 D 311. National Archives of Canada, Ottawa.
Precosky, Don. "Preview: An Introduction and Index." Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 8 (1981): 74–89.
Sutherland, John. The Letters of John Sutherland, 1942-1956. Ed. Bruce Whitman. Toronto: ECW, 1992.
——. "The Role of the Magazines." First Statement 1.15 (1943):1–2.
Trehearne, Brian. The Montreal Forties: Modernist Poetry in Transition. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1999.
Whitney, Patricia. "En Masse: an Introduction and an Index." Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 19 (1986): 76–91.
——. "First Person Feminine: Margaret Day Surrey." Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 31 (1992): 86–92.
——. "From Oxford to Montreal: Patrick Anderson’s Political Development." Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 19 (1986): 26–48.