Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Monday, 9 September 2013

"On Poetry" by Glyn Maxwell (Oberon Books, 2012)

The chapters are entitled "White", "Black", "Form", "Pulse", "Chime", "Space", "Time", the final chapter being a long poem that I didn't read. Much of the discussion repeats familiar baby-bathwater arguments and the "Georgian Poetry"-Modernism over-correction, pointing out that avoiding the mistakes of the past is only a start. I think the selection of quotes below gives a fair idea of his views (which he demonstrates by example).

  • "What evolutionary psychologists - and I - believe is that aesthetic preferences, those things we find beautiful, originate not in what renders life delightful or even endurable, but in what makes life possible", p.10
  • "Poets work with two materials, one's black and one's white. Call them sound and silence, life and death, hot and cold, love and loss. ... just don't make the mistake of thinking the white sheet is nothing. It's nothing for your novelist, your journalist, your blogger. ... For a poet it's half of everything", p.11
  • "A poem coherently expresses the presence of a human creature", p.37
  • "if some young poets were as watchful about needless obscurity as they are about needless sentimentality you might have heard of them", p.43
  • "You master form you master time", p.53
  • "Whatever the whiteness is to you it's also time. As I said before, to me it's only time", p.54
  • "Indents or centre-justification really ought to have some rationale, and I'd extend that to those poems that roam freely about the whiteness", p.57
  • "I see these days, in young aspiring poets, a phenomenal complacency regarding form, a prejudice that allows them to arrive at adulthood having been convinced somehow that rhyme and meter and pattern are things of the past", p.59
  • "we are not amazed. We just remember with nostalgia ... how once upon a time we were", p.68
  • "Many of the old forms - sestinas, villanelles - had a purpose centuries back but are no more than exercises now ", p.69
  • "people who use 'formalist' as an insult think poets who use meter are counting crotchets when in fact we're passing through bars", p.86

It's a shame that he harks back to the war poets for so many of his examples, it reinforces prejudices. It's also a shame that he doesn't quote some of the poetry he doesn't like, naming names. He seems keener on form than I am. I think we might share some "dislikes". I itemized mine in some detail on write-ups of Tears in the Fence, No.56 and The Best British Poetry 2011.

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