The Boys at Twilight: Poems, 1990-1995


The poems in this volume were selected by Glyn Maxwell from TALE OF THE MAYOR'S SON (published in 1990, when he was twenty-eight), OUT OF THE RAIN (shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize), and REST FOR THE WICKED. Maxwell “is a formalist,” wrote Robert McIlwaine about his first book, “but . . . he is an outspoken anti-elitist social poet. His strenuous well-wrought poems . . . come from an English tradition of technical virtuosity with plain speech.” The Boys at Twilight shows, sometimes comically, men at war, boys ...

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The Boys at Twilight: Poems, 1990-1995

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The poems in this volume were selected by Glyn Maxwell from TALE OF THE MAYOR'S SON (published in 1990, when he was twenty-eight), OUT OF THE RAIN (shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize), and REST FOR THE WICKED. Maxwell “is a formalist,” wrote Robert McIlwaine about his first book, “but . . . he is an outspoken anti-elitist social poet. His strenuous well-wrought poems . . . come from an English tradition of technical virtuosity with plain speech.” The Boys at Twilight shows, sometimes comically, men at war, boys at play, boys grown up, men overreaching and reverting. Other concerns are the dangers of authority and mob psychology, the absurdities of stardom and consumerism, the heroism of the decent, and the wisdom of doubt. His subjects range from biblical stories to the “Tale of the Chocolate Egg,” which is a long, “pitch-perfect description of a bored young man’s growing obsession with a new kind of candy” (Adam Kirsch, New Republic). Always in his work, “Maxwell knows that to see into is not necessarily to see through . . . His virtuosity has a ballast of sobriety” (Poetry Book Society).

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Glyn Maxwell is that rare thing -- a poet who writes verse that is entirely new, entirely of the contemporary moment, and unfailingly excellent. His newest collection, The Boys at Twilight: Poems 1990-1995, brings together some of the best poems being written in our time.
From the Publisher
“Some of the brightest poetic goods seen for many years.”


Poetry Book Society
Always in his work, "Maxwell knows that to see into is not necessarily to see through . . . His virtuosity has a ballast of sobriety.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"When the train stopped I started and woke up./ Was nowhere, as before, no change in that." As the Flying Dutchman suffered aboard his ghost ship, so Maxwell's Fool, Edmund Lea, suffers alone aboard his train, waiting for redemption from a sin he does not even at first recognize as such. Every seven years on Christmas Eve, beginning in 1977, Edmund is allowed to disembark from his train and spend one evening in Hartisle, his hometown. The inhabitants of that world believe he has run away of his own secret volition--a remarkable possibility, but not nearly as remarkable as the impossible and timeless world that he inhabits, stuck forever at age 17. Following in the wake of such recent verse-novels as Les Murray's phenomenal Fredy Neptune and W.S. Merwin's plodding Folding Cliffs, British ex-pat Maxwell, who got a lot of critical attention for his U.S. debut The Breakage last year, here checks in with his addition to this burgeoning genre. Apart from its Wagnerian netherworld, Time's Fool also bears a considerable Dantean influence: Edmund's journey counts among its ingredients an instructive guide (a grumpy poet, though, rather than a helpful philosopher); a lady love in the form of Clare Kendall, an old classmate; fellow travelers in the form of two long-suffering orphans, Pele and Wasgood; terror in the form of threatened eternal damnation and ferocious weather; and, ultimately, deliverance in female form--not to mention that the lines are in strict terza rima. Under the form's strictures, the narration can be labored and heavy, but Maxwell does find a synergy of form and content, with the best parts being descriptive rather than expository, as in one moment of Edmund's looking out the train window: "I saw beyond/ [my] shoulder the dark wind and the wild trees/ waving to the sky, and a grey wound// of sky was where the darkness was least,/ an opening or a closing where a hole/ was yellow almost with a feel of west..." The formal ambition of the project and Maxwell's relative success in carrying it off should wow more technically inclined readers and those looking for Fredy-like adolescent pleasures, minus the larger-scale import. More subtly ambitious, Maxwell's Boys selects from his first three U.K.-only releases and covers a wide and varied prosodic spectrum in its short time span. Most poems possess a slow, quiet fire, generally not announcing their emotion as much as offering it up in a waxed envelope. The pieces betray only the faintest well-chosen hints of what they are about, besides the quotidian--a man kills a wasp, a man falls in and out of love, a man escapes from an unnamed pursuer--but from those hints it is easy to extrapolate a world. Maddeningly little happens in these poems, and at its best, this quality bespeaks Blake's "world in a grain of sand"--but at its worst, it's hard to hear the poems above the noise of a smug, schoolboyish pride in the success of their formal mechanics. Nevertheless, the collection's steadfast belief in the transcendence of the quotidian is as impossible to discount when reflected in the melancholy of entreaties to "sit, forget/ the city-licking sound/ of water moving slowly through the Thames/ like years in thought." The co-release of these two books is clearly a push for Muldoon (whose book-length Madoc: A Mystery was a career-builder) or Murray-like recognition, but, unfortunately, Senator, Edmund is no Fredy, and the novel's audience will remain confined to the poetically inclined. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Maxwell's well-made poems reveal a stunning dexterity with the use of imagery and rhyme. The narrative poems in The Boys at Twilight, a selection from three previous volumes, range over diverse topics, including the environment, war, the struggle to maintain traditional values in a changing, multiethnic world, and "the hours/ of self-belief." Readers accustomed to confessionalism might be uncomfortable with a poet who keeps his personal life under wraps, but the brilliant use of language and delightful, rapid-fire embellishments of the ordinary are ample cause for celebration. Restrained yet vigorous, the voice of the poems (a "mad, beloved Time-Traveller") remains deeply committed to England, "a way back home," and "the future of a small, determined planet." The title poem, an elegiac lament over loss of youthful ideals, is worthy of A.E. Housman: "They sleep in the cold unswayable sight/ of all they envisage." With unexplained topical references to everyday English life, it's unclear how many of these striking English roses will find admirers on this side of the Atlantic. Although simple notes would have made this work more accessible, the publisher is to be commended for offering distinctive formal English poetry to American readers. Time's Fool, Maxwell's most recent work, is a massive novelistic study of redemption. Divided into nine sections, each containing four or five chapters, this 21st-century Pilgrim's Progress focuses on the struggles of Edmund Lea, "numb/ with knowledge," to express and make sense of picaresque travels back and forth from his home in Hartisle to "the great defeat/ of hopes, harlequinade at the Oak pub." The journey to future and past, crisscrossing 50 years (1970-2019), is set in a "mad world" (Hell, wilderness, "a sea/ of stone"), in which people are "destroyed,/ unmade, become forgotten, grow unheard of." Meetings with family members, old friends, and an array of semi-allegorical figures (Lucy Mizon, Wasgood, Woz) evoke dreamlike vignettes that illuminate Lea's search for order and a "single vision" of time. Despite a fractured presentation of the "diseased interior" of his life, Lea's character has a wholeness that sustains prolonged attention. His willingness to keep on caring about others (and himself) is a moral victory.--Frank Allen, Northampton Community Coll., Tannersville, PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Originally from Hertfordshire, Maxwell exhibits an intensely English sensibility that belies the many years he has studied and taught at Boston University and Amherst. The forms he employs vary widely, rarely obtruding upon the reader's consciousness, and sometimes this creates a feeling of slickness—as if tight structures come so easily to Maxwell that he lets the weakest poems write themselves. He is at his best in his early poems, which avoid premature closure and err on the side of excess rather than safety. Of these, a long ode to consumerist desire called "Tale of a Chocolate Egg" is worth the whole volume: hilarious and scary, it chronicles the effect of an advertisement for Cadbury chocolate eggs on a London neighborhood. The interplay of blank verse and half-rhymes provides a flexible, musical backdrop for a story of equal parts banality and profundity. Maxwell refuses to succumb to sentimentality or romantic transport: "Night fell. Put it another way: England / spun out into darkness, didn't count, / didn't have the sun, had all the rest." In his dryness, Maxwell achieves the quiet fury that Philip Larkin regularly mustered in his suspiciously polite verse, but he is both less polite and less bitter than Larkin and remains his own man—a brazen, sarcastic, and ultimately good-natured narrator of the everyday soul.McCarriston, Linda LITTLE RIVER: New and Selected Poems Salmon (96 pp.) paperback original Oct. 13, 2000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618064144
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/16/2000
  • Pages: 162
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Glyn Maxwell is the author of nine books of poetry, including, most recently, The Sugar Mile. He is also a dramatist whose—plays have been staged in New York, Edinburgh, and London. His latest play,'Liberty,'had its world premiere in the summer of 2008—at Shakespeare's Globe.'Among other honors, he has won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the E. M. Forster Prize. He was the poetry editor of the New Republic from 2001 to 2007.'He lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

The High Achievers

Educated in the Humanities, they headed for the City, their beliefs implicit in the eyes and arteries of each, and their sincerity displayed in notes, in smiles, in sheaves of decimal etcetera. Made, they counted themselves free. Those were the hours of self-belief, and the slow accolade of pieces clattering into a well.
And then the shrug of powers, and the millions glutted where they fell toadstooling into culture. Who knows when they made their killings during that hot spell: flies or policemen? An infinity of animals began to thrive especially, as when the dull sea, sick with its fish, was turning them to men.

Copyright © 1990, 1992, 1995, 2000 by Glyn Maxwell

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Table of Contents

Contents Tale of the Mayor’s Son (1990)

11 My Turn 12 Tale of the Mayor’s Son 17 Drive to the Seashore 18 Flood Before and After 20 The Albatross Revolution 22 Mandate on an Eighth of May 25 The Pursuit 26 Mild Citizen 27 The High Achievers 28 Wasp 29 The End of the Weekend 32 A Whitsun 34 Just Like Us 36 Tale of a Chocolate Egg 52 Farm Close

Out of the Rain (1992)

55 Errand Boy 56 The Fires by the River 57 EC3 58 The Eater 59 The Uninvited 60 Recollection of a Meal 63 Helene and Heloise 66 We Billion Cheered 67 The Hang of It 68 Sport Story of a Winner 70 Dream but a Door 71 Desire of the Blossom 72 Rare Chat with the Red Squirrel 74 Plaint of the Elder Princes 76 Rumpelstiltskin 77 One and Another Go Home 78 La Brea 79 Nativity 80 War Hero 81 And Leaves Astonishing 82 Didymus the Seated 84 Springs of Simon Peter 85 Thief on the Cross 86 Out of the Rain

Rest for the Wicked (1995)

109 Peter Brook 110 The Ginger-Haired in Heaven 111 Birth Day 112 The Wish 113 Garden City Quatrains 116 As You Walk Out One Morning 118 Love Made Yeah 119 Either 120 The Boys and Girls of There 122 The Boys at Twilight 124 Song of Our Man 125 Growing Men 126 Younger Than That Now 128 The Stakes 129 The Furthest West 130 Watching Over 131 Lust 131 Conquest 132 The Sentence 133 The Night Is Young 134 If You Haven’t Got a Shilling 135 Curse on a Child 136 Don’t Waste Your Breath 138 Museum 139 Sulk 140 The Margit-Isle 142 The Great Detectives 144 The Devil at War 146 The Altered Slightly 147 Yellow Plates 148 The Sarajevo Zoo 150 A Force That Ate Itself 152 The People’s Cinema 154 The Allies 155 The Horses’ Mouths 160 Stargazing

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2004

    Maxwell bad to the last drop and poem. . .

    Simply put: Maxwell is a well respected poet, who continues to prove why some poets should not be respected. His word play is nice, but so it my 10 year old's. This is a collection not needed by people desperate for kindling. All the stars in heaven, none should be spared for him!

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