a tribute to L. E. Sissman

Louis Edward Sissman was born on New Year’s Day, 1928. He died of Hodgkin’s disease in 1976. Like his friend, John Updike, Sissman went to Harvard and wrote for The New Yorker. Sissman, who was a poet and not a novelist, needed a day job; he worked as an advertising executive in Boston. He was happy in his work and wrote with appreciation of life in a corporate office.

At its best, the office is a place where your training and your ego get at least an intermittent chance to shine; where you work with others who, with luck, may include you in a team of motivated, purposeful people combining forces to achieve a goal; where you work for something more than survival alone. In that kind of office, your time is not wasted, your life is not frittered away in eight-hour segments; however trivial the product may be, you are actively furthering your life while earning a living.

He worked in the city but lived in the central Massachusetts village of Still River. In the foreword to the volume Night Music, Edward Hirsch wrote that Sissman was “…quiet, urbane and high-spirited…[and that] his poems shine with a restrained but very real human longing and passion. they have a ruthless authenticity. The live in time. They remember paradise.”

Night Music: Poems Cover

Sissman kept writing poems through his treatment for Hodgkin’s disease, up to his death at age forty-eight, giving us a quiet, urbane and high-spirited witness to the end of life. Updike wrote that his friend’s poetry “…gave back to life more generously than he had received, and carried his beautiful wit into darkness undimmed.”

At last, alas! day is born out of night,
And, though our pain persists in sleeping still,
It will arise and flourish at high noon,
And furious, constant, seek to find a way
Out of our time, the only one we know.

-L. E. Sissman

Still River, Massachusetts


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