If Signature is to be judged with the important consideration that it is written and put together by relatively inexperienced college students, it would be easy to nod obligingly at most of the material. But if one uses the bald criterion of whether it is good literature and makes good reading, there is little to be said for the magazine. Only two of the five poems and one of the four stories are worth bothering about; much of the other stuff represents promising work of young writers in development, but it is writing that the authors themselves should never have tried to have printed.
Richard A. Gregg's short prize-winning poem, "To Icarus," stands well above the rest of Signature's writing in both scope and technical competence. Gregg, a past contributor to the magazine, has a gift for the manipulation of sound in poetic expression, which can be seen in such lines as "Proud parabolas upon the deep/Receding blue . . ." It is a pity that only one of his poems has been printed in an issue so barren of this kind of dynamic and beautiful writing. Joan Hyde's atmospheric "Night Picture" communicates through precise visual detail, but her other poem is less successful because it leaves sensuous impressions and starts trying to delve into the abstract.
Of the fiction, all of which is by Harvard contributors, only James McGovern's "The Sounding Brass" arouses any deep interest in its characters. The story is about a priest who has to go to tell one of his parishoners that she cannot keep the body of her son, killed in the war, in her house indefinitely. The Father's doubt and inability to communicate are expressed convincingly through the unrestrained, almost laconic writing. The rest of the fiction is much less impressive. "The Kite," by George Bluestone, describes an uninteresting little boy watch his uninteresting little friend fall off a tenanment roof ("He felt hot lava rising and falling in his midsections.") Maurice Lynch, the author of "Old Salty," also makes the mistake of compressing his story so tightly that we never have a chance to become interested in the characters. The only thing that can be said for the tale is that it has an important subject (Jim Crowism), but the treatment is naive and the dialogue completely unnatural.
One would think that, after disposing of the topics of political consciousness, modern drama, and college writing on previous forum pages, Signature's editors would call it a day. But no. The spring issue contains two articles on "Religious Opinions at College," a big subject, but evidently not too big for this magazine. Alexander Stewart, a Harvard student of the Class of 1948, goes ahead merrily and analyzes "Religion at Radcliffe," dividing everyone into four types, the most interesting of which is the "fast-moving social clique," where "religion is conspicuous by its absence." Nancy Sadler's article is more intelligent but no less glib in its assumptions; but far from being an analysis, it is a plea for religion that involves the setting up of her own psycho-philosophical system.
The makeup and general appearance of the magazine have been improved, and Mary Harrell's two drawings on the inside pages are simple and pleasant. Once again the cover, by Burt Glinn, is most attractive. It shows a handsome Radcliffe girl sitting on some steps eating an ice-cream cone. Wonder if she's going to read the issue.