Milton Acorn Milton Wilson - Essay

Milton Wilson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Milton Acorn's The Brain's the Target … deserves the place of hour among Ryerson Press's current crop of chapbooks…. Mr. Acorn's work has been getting better and better during the past five years, and he seems about to become a very convincing and solid writer indeed. Such "solidity" is most obvious in his habits of speech—in the crushed rhythms, heavy alliterations, and words like boulders which have become his trademark…. The verse wrests whatever freedom it has from a rhythm of hard blows against an unyielding texture. But for Mr. Acorn society too is a dialectic of will and resistance; only here the struggle can be mutually destructive. As in that T.V. ringside poem "The Fights," "the brain's the target," whittled away until nothing human is left. I wish that Ryerson (or the author) had seen fit to represent the poet of society and the poet of ideas more adequately. In The Brain's the Target the Maritime regionalist (admirable in himself) is allowed to overshadow the debater, and Mr. Acorn's development seems truncated. That development displays a solidity of its own and has proceeded not by a process of reaction or attrition, but by accumulation like a snowball. The lyricist, the regional scene painter, the sketcher of people, the social protester, the muscle-bound arguer, these don't exclude one another; as a poem like "Mike" makes clear, nothing poetic or geographical has been finally rejected on the roads between Charlottetown and Toronto and Montreal. Because Mr. Acorn stands so obviously apart from the characteristic fashions of recent Canadian verse, one is likely to overrate his potentialities. Still, if, in due course, he doesn't produce one of the best books of the Canadian 60's, I shall be much surprised. (p. 395)

Milton Wilson, "Letters in Canada: 1960," edited by F. W. Watt, in University of Toronto Quarterly (reprinted by permission of University of Toronto Press), Vol. XXX, No. 4, July, 1961, pp. 380-401.