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

Orthodoxies P.J. Kavanagh

I have found myself speculating how an old, intimate friend would take the subject-matter of C. H. Sisson's poetry. It is, to an extraordinary degree, about glimpses of Nothingness, outside or beyond, and as for inside, well, if we only knew what a worthless fellow he was, malicious, deceitful, etc . . . Would the old friend find himself wondering whether Charles really was like that, more so than most of us and so depressed? Or would he, observing him at work in his garden, or among his books, suspect him of laying it on a bit thick?

In some form these thoughts may occur to the reader and it is good to approach all verse with a certain scepticism, so long as we are prepared to relinquish it. Of course, a poet only partially represents himself, the poem itself has to come as a surprise, a kind of mystery tour. 'There is no question, as it has come to me, of filling notebooks with what one knows already,' says Sisson, and Larkin has remarked 'the poems one wants to write are not always the ones that get written'. Sisson has arrived at the same conclusion: 'The writing of poetry is, in a sense, the opposite of writing what one wants to write . . .'. Thus, a good poet can fail throughout his writing life to express satisfactorily some of the things that have moved him most deeply. (Otherwise, perhaps the canon would be overburdened with ...

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