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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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Massacre in the Tower

By Lawrence Perlman, '39

The Magpie, June 1938, v. 22, n. 2., p. 53.

A steady flow of adjectives and split infinitives issues from the cubby hole in the Tower that is referred to as the office of the Magpie. It is the literary staff commenting on the material that has been submitted. The staff is somewhat divided as to how the material shall be classed and commented on. There is one school of thought that thinks the material ought to be slaughtered as soon as it is submitted. This view, however, is voiced by only a few. The other group believes the work should be given fair and constructive criticism. It is this band of "liberals" that have made the Magpie what it is today. But the ever vigilant group of "butchers" is always ready to give a story or poem the "works."

I'll illustrate what I mean. Suppose you confidently drop a poem in the Magpie contribution box. In your estimation, it is a literary masterpiece, but wait until Squad P starts working on it! Some fellow whom you once had the misfortune to contradict in your English class happens on your contribution. Being vindictive, he still remembers the earlier incident. That is here your poem begins to be a shell of its former self. He remarks, in Sophomore English: "The poem is a concrete example what the Magpie does not want. The mind of the Clinton student is slowly being juvenated by such tripe. I suggest that the contributor find out what Magpie standards really are." (The vitriolic critic has forgotten that one of his own poems has just been rejected because of its childish content.)

By the time the material reaches Mrs. Whalen, it is so mutilated that it is beyond recognition. The students of English have taken it upon themselves to correct the grammatical errors. The result of this carnage is similar to the face of one of our infamous enrollment slips. The idealists and reformers have turned the poem from a carefree little ditty into a surrealist song of oppression. They suggest such substitutes as "tintinabulation" for "noise," "pulchritude" for "beauty," and "infinitesimal" for "small." Their misfortune lies in the fact that they were born with dictionaries hinged to their upper palates instead of the customary silver spoons!

After the master critics have beaten the story to a veritable pulp, it reaches Mrs. Whalen. Knowing the boys as she does, she criticizes the criticisms in such fashion that she has been accused of being a literary sadist who delights in torturing the members of Squad P. It would probably surprise you to know that nearly all the material rejected by the squad is rehabilitated and eventually finds its way into the Magpie! Also this "tripe" seems to find favor with the Columbia Scholastic Association, the "400" of the high school literary world. When I submitted this "expose" to the Magpie, the members of the squad rose as one against me. Scenes reminiscent of the days of the Mafia were reenacted. Long steel stilettos flashed in the Tower. But they were not used on me; they were used on this, my article. I could have told more otherwise!

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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