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

Rhythm in Sisson's Poetry Clive Wilmer

I first encountered Sisson's poetry when a friend recommended In the Trojan Ditch not long after it first appeared. I remember reading it with some truculence. I was impressed by some of the formal epigrams but most of the poems belonged to a kind of poetry I wanted to leave behind. I had some time for the plainness of Sisson's style but his deviations from metrical rule struck me as wilful. There were lapses into prosiness, I thought, and particularly disliked what seemed a dated device, the use of officialese. And the more I read, the more I realized that I could not agree with either the poetics or the politics. I felt I belonged to a generation that would have to break with the modern movement: and this involved in my own case an attempt to achieve unambiguous, objective form. In place of the conversational idiom I had been taught to admire I wanted a language that easily related the new poem to the literature of the past. I wanted poetic argument to be syntactical and paraphrasable. Sisson attempted none of these things. He seemed closer to the generation of Pound and Eliot than to his own, let alone mine. He believed, as I soon discovered, that poetic utterance was necessarily involuntary; I, by contrast, believed in the importance of conscious and deliberate design.

I must have thought I would soon forget the poems, then found that I couldn't. Somehow or other these unattractive verses had ...


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