On Poetry

Overview

"This is a book for anyone," Glyn Maxwell declares of On Poetry. A guide to the writing of poetry and a defense of the art, it will be especially prized by writers and readers who wish to understand why and how poetic technique matters. When Maxwell states, "With rhyme what matters is the distance between rhymes" or "the line-break is punctuation," he compresses into simple, memorable phrases a great deal of practical wisdom.

In seven chapters whose weird, gnomic titles announce...

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Overview

"This is a book for anyone," Glyn Maxwell declares of On Poetry. A guide to the writing of poetry and a defense of the art, it will be especially prized by writers and readers who wish to understand why and how poetic technique matters. When Maxwell states, "With rhyme what matters is the distance between rhymes" or "the line-break is punctuation," he compresses into simple, memorable phrases a great deal of practical wisdom.

In seven chapters whose weird, gnomic titles announce the singularity of the book--"White," "Black," "Form," "Pulse," "Chime," "Space," and "Time"--the poet explores his belief that the greatest verse arises from a harmony of mind and body, and that poetic forms originate in human necessities: breath, heartbeat, footstep, posture. "The sound of form in poetry descended from song, molded by breath, is the sound of that creature yearning to leave a mark. The meter says tick-tock. The rhyme says remember. The whiteness says alone," Maxwell writes. To illustrate his argument, he draws upon personal touchstones such as Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. An experienced teacher, Maxwell also takes us inside the world of the creative writing class, where we learn from the experiences of four aspiring poets.

"You master form you master time," Maxwell says. In this guide to the most ancient and sublime of the realms of literature, Maxwell shares his mastery with us.

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Editorial Reviews

Rachel Hadas
A wry, learned, immensely helpful running commentary on teaching young poets to write.
J. D. McClatchy
What's particularly delightful here is the author's pleasure in skewering the lazy standards and attitudes of the day. Passionate and witty, it takes the young writer to the heart of the matter.
Simon Armitage
The most compelling, original, charismatic and poetic guide to poetry that I can remember. A handbook written from the heart by one of the true modern masters of the craft.
The Guardian - Adam Newey
[This] is a tremendously good book, and should be read by anyone who writes poetry and anyone who's interested in how and why poetry is written...It's a masterclass in close reading and close writing--that is, in paying proper attention to the weight of words and their various shades of meanings, to their musical value and how one word affects its neighbor...This is the best book about poetry I've ever read; certainly the only one that's made me laugh out loud. Maxwell's students are lucky to have him, and so are the rest of us.
The Observer - Wendy Cope
Occasionally mad but very interesting.
The Scotsman - Alan Spence
A wee gem of a book, essential reading for anyone who reads or writes poetry.
Booklist - Michael Autrey
Poet Maxwell offers a refreshingly astringent, deeply personal, and forceful argument about what poetry is--and is not... Maxwell's observations and exercises will be useful for all aspiring writers. An outstanding addition to the how, what, and why of poetry.
Open Letters Monthly - Sam Sacks
Glyn Maxwell’s effusive little book On Poetry is one of the best guides I have ever read to the greatest and most intimidating of all the literary forms. Maxwell is himself a poet and he wears his expertise confidently but casually. He takes on daunting, recondite concepts and elucidates them stylishly and personably, in the same spirit by which Roger Fry demystified the Post-Impressionists and Julia Child universalized the Quiche Lorraine…On Poetry…navigates a welcoming middle path between hidebound tradition and the free-for-all of formlessness. It reminds us that although only a select few are called to be Poets, reading, writing, and loving poetry is for anyone.
New York Review of Books - Nick Laird
Defiantly and exhilaratingly poetic…I like the urgency and stringency of Maxwell’s advice, and it should be useful to students coming to a poem, providing a set of keys to allow them entry…If the book is witty, and occasionally glib, it’s also profound…Arguing with this book is part of the joy of it: it’s provocative and opinionated and personal and urgent; by turns good-humored and intemperate; and full of earned advice on the writing and reading of poems.
Choice - M. F. McClure
A playful, challenging, provocative, and always surprising explication of the formal elements of poetry…[Maxwell] provides new ways of seeing the formal dimensions of poetry, whether canonical examples, his own works, or fresh-out-of-the-writing-workshop exercises…Required reading for anyone genuinely interested in contemporary poetry.
Library Journal
★ 09/15/2013
This wonderful new book by respected poet and dramatist Maxwell (The Sugar Mile) presents an inspiring how-to as well as a strong defense of poetry as a craft. The work reads as a prose poem in celebration of poetry, with a focus on sound and silence—two fundamental components of the lyrical art. Maxwell begins with a discussion of the whiteness of the page and the darkness of the ink and ends with an 18-page cacophonous pandemonium in the guise of an odd pastiche poem, "Time." With an eye for how the poet brings life to words on a page, the author guides the reader through the importance of form and sound, thus teaching how a poem breathes. Each of the six chapters explicates a different poetic element—"White" (page), "Black" (ink), "Form" (structure), "Pulse" (meter), "Chime" (sound), and "Space" (a discussion of dramaverse)—with a clarity of vision and delightful examples sure to engage poets, readers, and writers alike. VERDICT Maxwell's intelligent, conversational approach is exhilarating in its openness and breathtaking in its insight into the art of writing poems; a highly recommended book for all readers, teachers, and students of poetry.—Herman Sutter, St. Agnes Acad., Houston
From the Publisher
"The most compelling, original, charismatic and poetic guide to poetry that I can remember. A handbook written from the heart by one of the true modern masters of the craft." – Simon Armitage

"It really is a tremendously good book, and should be read by anyone who writes poetry and anyone who's interested in how and why poetry is written… this is the best book about poetry I've ever read." – Adam Newey, Guardian

"Glyn Maxwell’s On Poetry, on the execution and philosophy of the art, is probably going to be a modern classic." - Spectator

"A cogent, engaging, elegantly structured, and, at times, inspiring account and defence of the poet’s art and calling." – Times Literary Review

"There are a handful of books about writing that I count among my indispensible texts: by Guy Davenport, Randall Jarrell, Durs Grünbein, Keats, Pound, Brodsky, Virginia Woolf, Fanny Burney, Eliot. I knew on about page two that this book was one of them." – Katy Evans-Bush, Poetry Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674725669
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/14/2013
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 337,487
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Long regarded as one of Britain's major poets, Glyn Maxwell is the author of numerous books, including One Thousand Nights and Counting: Selected Poems (2011).
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