The Nerve: Poems


Many of the Poems in Glyn Maxwell's brilliant new collection explore American life and history. An Englishman who lived five years in Massachusetts, Maxwell watches fairs and floods and beggars pass by; he tries to understand gridiron and the ever-lengthening Halloween season. Some of these poems concern the harmful and the harmed: school shooters and terrorists on the one hand, victims and refugees on the other -- a girl accused of witchcraft; families made homeless, knowing "none in heaven or earth with any ...
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Many of the Poems in Glyn Maxwell's brilliant new collection explore American life and history. An Englishman who lived five years in Massachusetts, Maxwell watches fairs and floods and beggars pass by; he tries to understand gridiron and the ever-lengthening Halloween season. Some of these poems concern the harmful and the harmed: school shooters and terrorists on the one hand, victims and refugees on the other -- a girl accused of witchcraft; families made homeless, knowing "none in heaven or earth with any stake / in stopping it"; and the Californian "wild child" Genie. In a zone between are the harmlessly bewildered: a man who holds his own funeral, a TV weatherman wishing for hurricanes, women writing love letters to men on Death Row. Maxwell's first new collection since The Breakage (1999), this succession of lyrics and narratives captures the strangeness and splendor of America, its thin layer of normality, its historical origins in flight, longing, and trust in providence. Beyond the cultural context of these poems is an incisive and compassionate portrait of the human animal in the twenty-first century. The Nerve is a haunting, powerful book that strikes deep beneath the surface of daily life, "like a spell or a code that unlocks a safe" (PN Review).
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Having achieved prominence in the U.K. for his deft arrangements of ordinary (often suburban) experience into elaborate (often Audenesque) stanzas, British poet Maxwell has lived and taught for the last few years in New England. Following 1999's U.S. debut The Breakage, last year saw the U.S. publication of the verse-novel Time's Fool and the selected collection The Boys at Twilight, with the novel garnering national reviews. This new collection applies Maxwell's fluent gifts to his recent years in America, with a particular focus on western and central Massachusetts. The poet moves from "the rough shape/ your life makes in your town," "out into Massachusetts" past "Massachusetts cows," a town fair, "whole biking dynasties" and the football rivalries of the Pioneer Valley. Several short lyrics simply present valley evenings, stone walls, sets of trees; those with more narrative content eulogize friends or present short tales, including one vignette about a child-sex sting. Maxwell often comes up empty on trying to hit payoff notes ("if time could hear/ it would hear silence"), but readers who seek variety in formal choices will be pleased (as in past volumes) by Maxwell's well-managed pentameters, speedy couplets and fluid syllabics: the especially accomplished final poem offers a set of deft off-rhymes, from "message" to "village" to "knowledge." (Sept. 1) Forecast: Along with the concurrent paperback release of Boys and Time's Fool, this brief collection may prompt renewed attention to what's already a well-promoted career, furthered by Maxwell's frequent reviewing work. In a recent TLS review-essay, Maxwell combatively asserts that the recent American avant-garde "has achieved not one poem or line that is familiar to the public, produced not one book that is useful to the high schools, nor one poet who is read off campus...." He should find some sympathetic ears, along with passionate rebuttals. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Englishman Maxwell (The Breakage) divides his time between Amherst, MA, and New York City and also serves as poetry editor for the New Republic. Like Auden, he is a wry social commentator, fascinated by American phenomena like football games, country fairs, TV weather forecasters, and Internet chat rooms. But he also probes "the nerve" underlying this middle-class predictability. Notably, he describes women writing to criminals on death row, an eccentric who stages his own funeral, and "Genie," the speechless California "wild child." These oddities form "the outline of somewhere/ inhospitable/ with other rules." Like Dickinson and Frost, he is able to bring an effortless moral and aesthetic compression to his work; a discussion of poets and poetry ends thus: "When a verse/ has done its work, it tells there'll be one day/ nothing but the verse." Maxwell composes in a unique musical signature with an obvious gift for phrasing, as when a stream riffles like "a lady smoothing out her sleeve." He is a poet who bears watching on both sides of the Atlantic. Highly recommended. Daniel L. Guillory, Millikin Univ., Decatur, IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"This new collection applies Maxwell's fluent gifts to his recent years in America . . . the especially accomplished final poem offers a set of deft off-rhymes . . ." Publishers Weekly

"Maxwell is an intelligent and sensitive writer, and THE NERVE is one of the most enjoyable books of the year."—David Orr The New York Times Book Review

An intelligent, sensitive writer, moving confidently toward expressions of common feeling.
The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618446667
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/16/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 66
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.16 (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 Nerve

By Glyn Maxwell

Houghton Mifflin

Copyright © 2002 Glyn Maxwell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0618155465


The sea comes in like nothing but the sea, but still a mind, knowing how seldom words

augment, reorders them before the breaker and plays them as it comes. All that should sound

is water reaching into the rough space the mind has cleared. The clearing of that mind

is nothing to the sea. The means whereby the goats were chosen nothing to the god,

who asked only a breathing life of us, to prove we were still there when it was doubted.


Rugged and silken, like a country singer both those things, fastidious and scary, yet fitted by the terms of his employment in a sober suit and driving gloves, he seemed defeated in a civil war still going.

He said he’d lived his life. What was he, sixty? with children and grandchildren, his car business solid, sold. He laid his leather hands on the steering wheel and said he’d lived his life. And so one day had held his funeral.

Although he looked in his blue single-breasted right for one, we caught each other’s eyes and tried to find this funny or him funny. It depended. All his pals had been invited, had come from far and wide and there he lay,

face-up in a hired coffin, taking breaks for Pepsi while he listened to their speeches. Which, by the grin I saw in thedriver’s mirror, must have delighted him on his bed of satin, staring with eyes closed. Oh they made cracks,

he told us, they hit home, they didn’t spare me! We didn’t really know how to receive this, in the back, on the winning side, except politely, then without words to stretch back and imagine his friends were probably mourning him, you’d have to,

because he hadn’t died, because he’d held his funeral, to hear the case against him, but had heard nothing and was satisfied, and reassured that all the things he loved and strolled among had had their hour of judgment.


Hurricane This is scaring us, Hurricane That’s not far behind, and we’re not turning our backs one second. We look at the screen all day. We find

Hurricane This still flapping away at the shirt of Tom the Weather Guy. Canada throws an arm around him. Hurricane That just bats an eye.

Hurricane This is whipping off the Carolinas’ tablecloth; Hurricane That, amused by this, is beating ocean into froth.

Hurricane This is playing wolf to New York City’s clever pig; Noah’s nailing down his roof so when it comes it’s nothing big.

Hurricane This is burning out off Providence; Hurricane That is disappointing Tom, who’d dreamt of half Virginia pounded flat.

And Hurricane This was called Renee. And Hurricane That was Stan. And Canada pats Tom’s shoulder now as he hands us back to Jenni-Ann,

who asks about his weekend plans, which are much the same as ours, so maybe we’ll see him nosing out of a local brawl of cars,

and maybe he’ll give us the wave he gets when the heat kicks in and how, and it hits the heights he said it would this far upstate by now.

More likely he’ll just speed away. And I’d be shy of the love of those who have to live by what I have to warn them of.

Excerpted from The Nerve by Glyn Maxwell Copyright © 2002 by Glyn Maxwell
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

The Sea Comes in Like Nothing but the Sea 1
The Nerve 2
Haunted Hayride 4
The Man Who Held His Funeral 6
Gatekeepers on Dana 8
One of the Splendours 9
Today 10
A Winter Evening 11
Blindfold 12
Refugees in Massachusetts 14
The Year in Pictures 16
Farm Animals Are Childhood 17
A Hunting Man 18
Chartreuse 20
A Promise 21
Two Breaths 22
A Child's Love Song 23
Island Painting, St. Lucia 24
The Paving Stones 27
The Only Work 28
The Poem Recalls the Poet 29
The Weather Guy 30
An Earthly Cause 32
The Alumni 34
The Leonids 36
Stopit and Nomore 37
Likes and Dislikes 38
Crow and Calf and Dog 39
The Game Alone 40
The Fair That Always Comes 44
The Flood Towns 46
Chile 48
Love Letters for Cell 10 49
Burning Song 50
Colorado Morning 51
The Strictures of What Was 52
The Surnames 53
Playground Song 54
The Stop at Amherst 55
The Snow Village 58
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