by Glyn Maxwell is a thrilling book. There aren't many thrilling books in the world and very few about poetry. I hate giving stars but if I could I'd go for 4.75. I don't have time to be eloquent so here are some numbered points (wake up at the back...):
1. This book is in a hurry. I like that. It is terse and sometimes impatient. Good. It is a short, quick read and there is every possibility that I'll read it again.
2. It starts with white space. How poetry is placed on that or in that white space. How poetry isn't like prose. How poetry isn't like song. That's a really good bit, how poetry isn't like song. We all know this, don't we, instinctively? We know that even the words of best, the very best song writers are daft without music, so they aren't poetry. Full stop. Thank you very much. I paraphrase and I'm in a hurry, as I say, but that's the gist of it and very refreshing too.
3. It talks about line-endings. It respects line-endings. I'm obsessing here, I know, but line-endings are obviously very important, although so much poetry is written and published by poets who don't seem to think line-endings are anything other than lawn edging strips (you know, the green corrugated ones). Glyn Maxwell's point is, I think, that form means something and you'd better believe it.
4. It talks about 'pulse' and 'chime', the rhythm and noise of poetry (but these are described so much more accurately). Those two titles, 'pulse' and 'chime', just seem so right; not slavishly counting beats or ladling on the assonance, but knowing what's going on in a poem, as a writer and a reader; the music which is not music.
5. And it suggests, gloriously, that having poems voiced by trained actors is a good thing, useful, interesting, not something to be frightened of. We don't get to the bottom of why so many poets are so wary of this because there's no time and this is not a book that has time to waste. So let's just believe Maxwell's right. Hey, he's right.
So, that's it. Not a review but a short list. And what I liked most was the underlying sense that to write good poems or/and to be a deep reader of poems it might be necessary to do a little bit of work... Not 'cryptic crossword, footnotes galore, knowing Ancient Greek' work, but 'listening carefully and noticing (by eye but also by ear) what's going on in a poem' work. Fair enough. Why not? The best poems are going to last hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years, so let's give them some time, now.
Read this book if you want to go back to poetry with renewed vigour. Read it if you want to be reminded about why some lines of poetry have effortless class (there's a killer line from Hamlet given as an example; just so good) while so many other lines of poetry don't. Read it if you want to question every poem that comes your way - your own and other people's - in a more than superficial (do I understand it, have I nodded in agreement, am I jealous) way.
And it is very well written: full of invention and imagaination. Full of fun.
Finally, thank you, Glyn Maxwell, for not writing a book about how we can all turn our life experiences into prize winning poems. Those books exist. Good. This is not one of them. Great.