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14 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The great inane, 23 Feb. 2013
This review is from: On Poetry (Hardcover)
'A poem coherently expresses the presence of a human creature.' If Maxwell considers this kind of mystifying mumbo-jumbo meaningful he is deceiving himself. And us. Looking for lit crit? Of the six words 'As I lay asleep in Italy', Maxwell remarks 'What does 'I lay asleep' become in the light of 'in Italy'?' (I can't imagine, and Maxwell doesn't tell us.) But at page 45 ('my writing classes') the penny drops; this is not about reading at all. I remember a time when people didn't need encouragement to add to the poetry glut; it was something they did in private, for comfort, almost introspectively - and assuredly not for publication!

This is an anthology of teaching aids. Maxwell could have titled it 'Well, they worked for me'. But you can't 'teach poetry', any more than you can teach French (though you can teach to pass a certain kind of exam - if you call that teaching); the impetus must come from within. (Remember Teach Yourself Books?) This self-indulgent ramble is more like therapy, for all parties (pretend teaching, and - sadly - pretend learning); like David Bellos's marginally better Is That a Fish in your Ear (on translating) it shows up what education has become. Why read these lazy offcuts, kids, when you could be reading the real thing? John Hayward's Penguin Book of English Poetry will probably last you a month or two at least, maybe six, and help firm up what you like, then you've a lifetime before you (it will take a lifetime, just in English), during which you might conceivably add to the corpus, and it would certainly be better than having Glyn Maxwell breathing down your neck like a sex therapist in a bridal suite

'Poetry is creaturely.' What po-faced piffle! (Bellos plays similar tricks.) Is this late onset midlife crisis or proto-guru-ification? The eroticism surrounding couplets and sonnets (naked vs. clothed forms) is palpable - and, I thought, the high point of the book, spent all too soon. Later it becomes a different, less breathless animal, but it's altogether too late - and indescribably too slight - for this reader. The sample of Maxwell's own work is, well, instructive. Not one of his peers feature; all poets cited are well dead except for Armitage - as Gawain translator! - and all quotes positively hoary old faithfuls, bits of Ivor Gurney and Edward Thomas excepted. Sometimes in his quest for *meaning* Maxwell will disappear up his own italics, and qua playwright* he's going to have to watch his Anglo-Americanness, lest he end up stranded between folk (in the quaint (Chaucerian?) locution on p127) and the frankly folksy folks (p150, twice). '[K]eenly feel the pressure of silence' - oh, I do, I do

As for what Maxwell's *teacher* (sheesh! so the problem goes way back; but Maxwell concedes he had nothing to say for the first 34 years) said about poetry stateside (that if things go on as they are 'it will soon have, effectively, no readership at all'), this state of affairs is precisely what books like this encourage - and anyway Walcott's wrong; the Americans are way ahead of us creatively**, it's just that it's somewhat blocked by the sheer tonnage turned out by the creative writing workshops. Those people producing the good work constitute, between themselves, their own readership. It is all the audience art needs. Art can survive without an audience; can we survive without art? Read poetry for its own sake. Read it for love

* If he's taking tips from Eliot on playwriting, I fear for him
** Maxwell, for instance, is still fighting the to-rhyme-or-not-to-rhyme war long since cordially concluded Over There and resolved partly, I suspect, by the vast army of private versifiers not processed 'by the schools' or seduced by fashion, not a few of whom went on to subsequent publishing success, plurality getting one over on career path
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Location: london, england

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