Milton Acorn Dorothy Livesay - Essay

Dorothy Livesay

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Many poets of the sixties] seem to be becoming somewhat fatigued by cerebral and mythopoeic poetry. There is a return to Imagism; and with that return lyricism inevitably canters alongside. (p. 33)

Of all contemporary Canadian poets, Milton Acorn is most at home as a part of this development…. As he describes it, he grew into poetry the hard, unschooled way:

I started to write in iambic patterns…. Iambic was theoretically based on the 'natural' rhythms of the English language…. But among the great majority of people living on the North American continent the speech patterns (stress and rhythm) have changed. Iambic no longer fits.

Acorn first began to break with the iambic pattern from listening to seamen talk…. His aim was "a line that flowed more in terms of their own natural idiom". [He] began to grow away from the iambic pattern, while yet maintaining a unity of structure based essentially on strong-stress (ballad) rhythms. (pp. 33-4)

Notable in [his poem "Charlottetown Harbour"] is the lack of overt emotion and the absence of metaphor or symbol. We are presented with a still-life painting in the Imagist tradition. Generally Acorn's early work seems to follow this Imagist pattern of minute detail, enclosing an internal movement which is created by the use of phrasal rather than clausal utterances. Yet Acorn is a poet unable to sit still for long: man interacting on scene is what really interests him. (p. 35)

Even in his first book it is apparent that Acorn's poetry is beginning to eschew description, or even simile and metaphor, in favour of a more dramatic presentation. The landscape is now acted upon, as in the poem, "Old Property"…. There is no internal juncture [in this poem as there is in some of Acorn's work] and even end-juncture is disguised by run-on lines…. The effect is to emphasize word or phrase at the beginning of the line. From now on, this will be one of Acorn's chief technical devices…. [In parts of this poem] he extends himself farther than imagism, into symbolism. And from there on he questions, questions. (pp. 35-6)

[There] are three aspects to Acorn's style, evident in both his early and his late poems. These are: vivid imagery, rhythmic progression, and the ability to create a synthesis of what has gone before…. [The] poet works on his material, activates it and re-creates it into a new synthesis. He succesfully integrates form and content. (p. 37)

It is as an experimentation with form that Milton Acorn's poems...

(The entire section is 1076 words.)