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This review is taken from PN Review 41, Volume 11 Number 3, January - February 1985.

BAKER'S DOZENS John Hollander, Powers of Thirteen (Secker & Warburg) £5.95

For the writer tired of fabricating isochronic patterns, syllabic poetry affords a welcome means of preserving the liberties of free verse together with the discipline of regular forms. A listener may well have difficulty distinguishing syllabic verse from free, and even the reader with the text before him may contend, once he has made out the syllabic scheme, that rhythmically what he is reading might just as well be prose. Still, the attractions of syllabics for the poet who needs a rule to check his energy are obvious.

Because of its problematic rhythmic status, syllabic poetry is widely frowned on, often with good reason, and I fear that John Hollander's new book may be little more than an occasion for frowning. Marianne Moore's 'The Steeplejack' or Dylan Thomas's 'Poem in October' ought to indicate to any poet of sense that the most successful way to use syllabics is in stanzas of varying line lengths, so that the syllable count is reinforced by a pattern that can be picked up not only by the reader's eyes but indeed by the listener's ear. John Hollander, however, like Thom Gunn with his seven-syllable lines before him, relentlessly gives us more, and more, and more of the same: 169 (13 X 13) poems each of 13 lines, each line of 13 syllables. It is too much to endure, and Hollander's book will infallibly confirm opponents of syllabics in their dislike.

Here (from poem 66, 'The Fall') are five concluding ...


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