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This review is taken from PN Review 16, Volume 7 Number 2, November - December 1980.

NOTHING MISSING C. H. Sisson, Exactions (Carcanet) £2.95
Elizabeth Jennings, Selected Poems (Carcanet) £3.95
Edwin Morgan, Star Gate (Third Eye Centre, Glasgow) n.p.

Exactions includes some of Sisson's toughest and some of his most approachable poetry in recent years. The opening poems are brutal, disposing with equal ruthlessness of mind and body, reason and the senses. The first poem sets the scene-the speaker about to die in a desert, not even sure of his own existence. There are analogies with Beckett-'Could night come, that would effect a change'-but simultaneously Sisson makes clear that the desert is a metaphor and the poem an artifact, by having the speaker refer to the setting down of the poem on paper. The legerdemain disorientates the reader. Gently or otherwise 'all of us are disproven'. Time and again, the poems refuse to yield a fixed point of reference. Hovering everywhere is the sense of time passing, and pressing, the period ahead ever more foreshortened.

The variety of form and tone exhibited in these poems is considerable: witty and closely-rhymed parable; surreal pastiche of sea shanty; self-communion; self-mockery; near-obscenity. For all their pessimism, energy carries them along. Gradually they win through to a more positive world, where meaninglessness and uncertainty about one's own identity are just accepted and the unanswerable questions are left unasked or are referred to only in passing. The result is some beautiful elegiac garden poems. Wading over a stream on a hot day, the speaker of one poem is conscious of trampling microscopic life:


              The legs do the damage,
Like the will of God, without rhyme or ...


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