HELLO, DARKNESS: The Collected Poems of L. E. Sissman by L. E. Sissman

HELLO, DARKNESS: The Collected Poems of L. E. Sissman

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KIRKUS REVIEW

L. E. Sissman was born in 1928 and died in 1976. At the age of 13 this Quiz Kid prodigy went to Washington to win the National Spelling Bee; at the age of 40, a success in the advertising business, he published his first book of poetry, Dying: An Introduction. His mature flowering as poet, reviewer for The New Yorker, and columnist for The Atlantic Monthly only barely preceded a doctor's diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease. ""That Tyrian specimen on the limelit stage/ Surveyed by Dr. Cyclops, magnified/ Countless diameters on its thick slide,/ Turns out to end in -oma."" During the remissions of the illness, he caught up as much of life as he could, and worked strenuously at his newfound gift of writing verse. In an age of formlessness, he gave shape to his lines; in an age of groveling complaints against the universe, he found metaphor for personal pain and joy. All his poems close elegantly. ""Alas, cockchafers cuddle. We cannot."" ""From him to her: a proton stream whose price/ Encompasses the end of Paradise.' He acknowledged W. H. Auden as master, and confessed his debt to the poets he had all his life loved: an inkhorn poet. But when he wrote his best lines, he was his own man. ""Snow begins/ To lance against the window, and I see,/ By luck, a leisurely and murderous/ Shadow/ detach itself with a marine/ Grace from an apple tree. A snowy owl,/ Cinereous, nearly invisible,/Planes down its glide path to surprise a vole."" If we are all nowadays fascinated by the natural history of death, Sissman deserves to be noticed for his courageous response to its approach. . . . And of course, for the quality of his product, a phrase that, as a practical man of affairs, he would not have abhorred.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1978
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown