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Whoa! Hold on a minute!
on 24 March 2013
This one is getting a five-star halo effect. Caveat lector.
Maxwell has great facility with words and interesting thoughts on poetry but he is also a contrarian. He is chippy about having been labelled a neocon but bickers repeatedly about free verse (cf the example supposedly retrieved from a factory floor), which he simply travesties rather than engaging with the output of Lawrence or any number of American poets of the twentieth and twenty first centuries who have formed their lines from the weight/sense/relationship of words or the rhythms of conversation rather than obeying the diktat of the metronome. Maxwell is fixated on the measured beat and even ploughs an unrewarding furrow in defence of the contemporary verse play.
He sneers too at English teachers, who he blames for not skilling up their charges and for endorsing "so-called 'free' verse". I would love to see him get an all-ability class of eleven-year-olds writing worthwhile pentameter. No chance, pal. But let them loose in a free-verse playground, with words and images as magic toys, and no because-you-have-to requirement to bang 'bold' crassly against 'cold', and any of them can reach angelic heights. Of course the historic and global heritage must be taught all the way to A Level and beyond but for goodness sake, loosen up, Glyn. You're meant to be on our side, not Gove's!
As well as the contrariety there are the contradictions. In his creative writing classes Maxwell styles himself 'the professor', the authority figure, while recording the sessions in feet-on-the-table, cool dude prose. There is lots of games-playing and second-guessing. It sounds like a stressful environment, not least when he slyly rewards the gullible student with
the prize of making the coffee.
In short, I enjoyed the book for Maxwell's undoubted insights into how verse is made. But the impatient, doctrinaire tone in the voice is a significant detraction.
And one for Kindle readers: could you read the final chapter, TIME? I couldn't. The font is microscopic and would not enlarge.