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This article is taken from PN Review 39, Volume 11 Number 1, July - August 1984.

Rustic Jollity Fleur Adcock

I first met Charles Sisson in 1975, at the launching party for a PEN anthology in which we both appeared. It was about a year since I had discovered his poetry and been astonished by its beautifully flexible rhythms, its intensity, and the fact that no one had told me about it before. The prospect of finding something to say to the man himself was a little daunting, in view of my admiration, but I wanted to meet him. Perhaps I asked John Mole, who had told me about the difficulties of proof-reading Sisson's The Corridor for the Mandeville Press (all that eccentric punctuation, all those eccentric line-breaks) to introduce us: I don't remember. At any rate, the fact that I was still then a civil servant (although I preferred to think of myself as a librarian) gave me subject-matter for some conversation with the former Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Employment.

Some days later an envelope arrived on my desk at work: a copy of The Corridor, inscribed 'For Fleur Adcock to read in the Foreign Office Library . . .' - as if I'd have dared! But that was the joke: Charles knew with what provisional and reluctant obedience I accepted my status as an employee of HMG. I read the poem at home, and went through a phrase of unusually severe dissatisfaction with my own writing: trying to exclude artifice from it I succeeded only in excluding full-stops from line-endings, until I ...


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