A Historic Note
Three years after founding The Hudson Review in 1948 with Joseph Bennett and William Arrowsmith, Frederick Morgan began corresponding with Ezra Pound, then a patient at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC. During conversations on Morgan’s visits, and in correspondence, Pound offered advice concerning the magazine, though not always taken. The letter below to Pound is a candid appraisal by Morgan of his thoughts and positions as an editor in 1951.
“Borderland,” R.F.D. Surry, Maine
In general, what I’m after is good writing, clean and alive, and a surrounding “atmosphere” that will aid it and sustain it. We have published a lot of dead stuff: granted. A lot that, now, I would not accept; have learned a lot, I think, just in the process of editing. Started off with big ideas and—I think it is fair to say—a real love of literature, in so far as I had been able to bring myself into contact with it through the fog of “higher education.” A few things I really knew: that is to say, I had read them and responded to them out of my own being. But there were, and are, enormous gaps; and no formal education today fills them in. It substitutes hot air for real experiences. Have been trying to fill in the gaps myself, by reading, by trying to understand, by relating what I read to my own efforts at writing. Editing helps, by pointing up the issues—by clarifying what is, or is not, relevant to our conscious today.
But I don’t think you can throw criticism out of the window. It needn’t be dead. It can point to what should be read, as you yourself have remarked. Can’t fill a magazine today, even a quarterly, with writing of permanent interest. A lot of it is for the day only—but as criticism, it should be clear, alert and concerned with making primary experience available to the reader.
We are getting now more good poetry and fiction than in the past, a very encouraging sign. We are trying to turn to new original work as much as possible. But I should rather publish a good piece of criticism—that might turn the reader’s attention to some thing worthwhile—than a rotten story or poem.
Wd be glad for your specific comments on particular items we have published.