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This review is taken from PN Review 53, Volume 13 Number 3, January - February 1987.

THE SCANDAL OF FORM Donald Wesling, The New Poetries: Poetic Form since Coleridge and Wordsworth (Associated University Presses) £24.50

This is 'the second of three volumes on prosody'. When the first appeared, The Chances of Rhyme, it was attacked in this magazine by Nicolas Tredell (PNR 24). To equate 'rhyme' with 'device', then to define modernity as the denial of rhyme: that seemed bad enough. But to suggest that it all suddenly happened in or about 1795, Tredell found absurdly reductive. Elsewhere, C.H. Sisson questioned the very enterprise of defining modernity (TLS, 12 September 1980). Every poet worth the name at every age had sought to liberate language from 'the shadow of what has become too familiar', without abandoning the responsibility to be at some level intelligible. Further objecting to Wesling's virtual identity of modernity with the invention of 'sincerity', Sisson felt prompted to return to essentials, and offered his own memorable definition of poetry: 'a receptacle for sense which cannot be put into prose, and which burdens the speaker until it is said'. In this light, he reminded the author of The Chances of Rhyme that one could not talk glibly of poets looking around for an alternative 'device' with which to unload the meaning: form and sense were always inseparable.

Professor Wesling (University of California) has noted these rebukes, but does not want to dwell on them. His introduction to The New Poetries incorporates part of the article in which he replied to Tredell and Sisson, whom he believed to represent a critical conspiracy against him (PNR 40); but all personal controversy, indeed all ...


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