Clive James is one of our finest critics and best-beloved cultural voices. He is also a prize-winning poet. Since he was first enthralled by the mysterious power of poetry, he has been a dedicated student. In fact, for him, poetry has been nothing less than the occupation of his lifetime, and in this book he presents a distillation of all he's learned about the art form that matters to him most.Read more...
Clive James is one of our finest critics and best-beloved cultural voices. He is also a prize-winning poet. Since he was first enthralled by the mysterious power of poetry, he has been a dedicated student. In fact, for him, poetry has been nothing less than the occupation of his lifetime, and in this book he presents a distillation of all he's learned about the art form that matters to him most.
With his customary wit, delightfully lucid prose style and wide-ranging knowledge, Clive James explains the difference between the innocuous stuff so prevalent today and a real poem: the latter being a work of unity that insists on being heard entire and threatens never to leave the memory. A committed formalist and an astute commentator, James examines the poems and legacies of a panorama of twentieth-century poets, from Hart Crane to Ezra Pound, from Ted Hughes to Anne Sexton. In some cases he includes second readings or rereadings from later in life--just to be sure he wasn't wrong the first time Whether demanding that poetry must be heard beyond the world of poetry or opining on his five favorite poets (Yeats, Frost, Auden, Wilbur, and Larkin), James captures the whole truth of life's transience in this unforgettably eloquent book on how to read and appreciate modern poetry.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-02-23
- Reviewer: Staff
This collection of "miniature essays" on poetry by the prolific James (Cultural Amnesia), who is both a poet and an opinionated, outspoken consumer of poetry, informs and delights. James's yardstick is clear—"If only to secure a brief respite from the barely intelligible, it is forgivable to favour those poets who show signs of knowing what they are saying"—and his voice direct, often blunt: F.R. Leavis "never wrote a poem, rarely said anything interesting about one," and Lawrance Thompson's Robert Frost biography was "dud scholarship." Yet James is fair in revisiting earlier pronouncements, such as of Elisabeth Bishop's poems, which he would now give "less stinted praise." A tone of appreciation prevails, even when it comes with reservations, and there are also surprises, like citations of John Updike's "dauntingly accomplished" light verse and introductions to the work of Australian poets like Stephen Edgar, James McAuley, and Peter Porter. Linked "Interludes" preceding each essay give the book coherence rarely achieved in a collection of previously published works, the bulk of these pieces having appeared in the magazine Poetry between 2006 and 2013. Speaking of Byron, James observes, "His best poetry is good talk based on knowledge." James, who wears his erudition very lightly, likewise offers "good talk" that will send readers back to their bookshelves and onto the Internet to read more great poetry. (Mar.)