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This article is taken from PN Review 3, Volume 4 Number 3, April - June 1978.

On the Wrong Track Donald Davie

SEVERAL OF Michael Schmidt's chosen team of ten poets have, not surprisingly, appeared in Poetry Nation or PNR. And some of them have come before us not just as poets, but as reviewers too. Robert Wells for instance reviewed C. H. Sisson's Anchises in PNR 2. And at one point in that careful and intelligent and mostly laudatory review Wells jibbed at Sisson's declaration: 'There is a general, completely inartificial conversation among contemporaries of which what remains as literature is in some sense the finest expression.' Robert Wells could not accept that; it was, he thought, an account altogether 'more straightforward, less mysterious' than it ought to be. And he went on to assert that 'The search for directness, for words that follow speech, carries its own risks and faults'.

This passage explained to me the disappointment that I feel with Wells's poems. More precisely, it confirmed my worst fears. Sisson's declaration is directly in line with the teaching of Pound, and of Ford Madox Ford behind Pound. Pound said that Ford's insistence upon 'the limpidity of natural speech, driven towards the just word, not slopping down . . . into the more ordinary Wordsworthian word', was 'the most important critical act of the half-century.' Robert Wells, in his poetry as in his criticism, refuses to acknowledge that this act has taken place, or that it is irreversible. So he can write: 'certainly of this place,/Your muscle-rumoured limbs and quiet face/And ready glee.' 'Ready glee'! Pound's sentence ...


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